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the Reframe teamMay 13, 2024 3:05:28 PM6 min read

The £1.6bn cancer absence cost to UK business in 2024

The £1.6bn cancer absence cost to UK business in 2024

New insight from Reframe Cancer, has revealed the potential cost to UK businesses in 2024 caused by cancer absence, and how the employee benefits offered by employers may not be enough to meet employee needs.

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Employee absence

The research amongst 500 UK employees with cancer* as part of The Employee Experience report: Living and working with cancer reveals employees will need time off work at every stage of their cancer journey. The average employee will be absent from work for 15 weeks (approximately 75 working days based on full-time employment). With a forecast of 160,000 (1) people of working age receiving a cancer diagnosis each year, and an average employee salary of £34,963 this could mean a potential £1.6 billion(1) cost to UK businesses.

In addition to the expected absence for treatment and recovery, employees take time off during the early stages before a formal diagnosis is made. The average overall absence in closer detail indicates employees take the following time off:

  • Pre-diagnosis worries & symptoms: 12 days off
  • Diagnosis & testing: 16 days off
  • Treatment: 24 days off
  • Recovery: 23 days off

Over half of employees (55%) also only tell their employer after their cancer diagnosis has been confirmed, meaning most employees will take 28 days off work before they let their HR team or employer know. Astonishingly 11% wait until they’re undergoing treatment or when their treatment has finished, meaning many could take up to 52 days off work before telling their employer. Additionally 18% tell them whilst undergoing tests. The research also reveals that almost half (48%) say they feel pressured to keep working during their cancer journey, this may go some way to explain why so many employees wait to tell their employer about their cancer diagnosis. An additional consideration for employers is that there are also currently around 700,000(3) people in work who are caring for someone with cancer, these people will also be taking time off to support them and will further impact absence.

Employee benefits falling short of expectations

Whilst on their cancer journey, employee benefits obviously become hugely important, however the findings suggest there is still a way to go to bridge the gap between what is offered and how employees feel about their benefits packages. More than three quarters (77%) of employees with cancer do not believe that the employee benefits offered to them whilst on their cancer journey meet all their needs. Looking at this level of dissatisfaction in more detail:

  • 58% are male
  • 58% earn less than £30,000 per year
  • 54% have worked with their current employer for 4-10 years

Both higher and lower earners say they are dissatisfied. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) of those who earn more than £5,000 per month, say they do not believe their employee benefits meet all their cancer needs. Lower earners are even more dissatisfied with 90% of those that earn under £1,500 a month stating the same.

Inequality in private healthcare

Whilst many employees feel their employee benefits fall short in some way the findings also show a level of inequality in the provision of private healthcare. The NHS is the primary source of cancer care for 92% of employees in total, with 62% of respondents stating they receive treatment exclusively through the NHS whilst 30% of employees receive a combination of both NHS and private care. Only 6% of employees receive treatment exclusively through private healthcare.

The findings highlight however that there is a strong gender divide in the provision of private cancer care treatment. Only 29% of female employees receive private medical treatment compared to over 7 in 10 (71%) male employees. This male bias is further evident when considering access to both private and NHS options, with 70% again being male.

The research also shows a correlation between seniority and access to private healthcareJust 6% of employees in junior positions said they accessed private healthcare for their cancer care. This compares to 64% of C-suite executives who said they accessed private health services during their cancer journey, followed by senior management level (52%)middle management (30%) and supervisors (29%) who said the same.

Unsupported and isolated

Against this backdrop, many employees also say they feel unsupported and isolated at work. More than 4 in 10 (45%) employees with cancer believe their colleagues consider them a burden during their cancer journey and 35% don’t feel they can openly talk to their colleagues about their diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, 35% of employees say they feel isolated at work during their cancer experience. With the research indicating that employees who feel this way take more time off work during their diagnosis, treatment, and recovery (4.7 weeks) than the average of 4.3 weeks.

Mark Stephenson, CEO at Reframe Cancer commented: “Our extensive research has highlighted that things are much worse for employees working with cancer than we feared. They are taking 15 weeks off work on average, many will also take more than this, whilst 92% are also reliant on the NHS, and there is virtually no support being put in place for almost all these people. Of further concern is the gender inequality we are seeing in the provision of private healthcare, with 71% of men getting PMI support, compared to just 29% of females. As well as this there is an additional trend emerging whereby lower earners are the most dissatisfied with their employee benefits for cancer. The grade of an employee should not have an impact on the support they receive when dealing with cancer.Mark 530xx480

Sadly the research also shows that stigmatisation of cancer is very real, and many employees feel as though they have to hide their cancer diagnosis, concerns and even symptoms, in 2024 this feels so wrong. This needs to be a massive wake up call to employers, brokers and insurers about the importance of cancer support in the workplace. There are an estimated 890,000(4)  of working age that are currently living with cancer who will need ongoing support, and our expert cancer nurses can help employees navigate through the NHS, or private route, much quicker, whilst helping employees to keep working, and at the same time feel so much more supported. We praise the few employers and insurers who are leading the way on this cancer support in the workplace.”

Brian Walters, Managing Director of specialist PMI broker Regency Health, said: “This research underlines the important role private medical insurance can play. It can help relieve some of the pressure on the NHS and is becoming an increasingly sought after benefit. It is concerning that some employees feel under supported in their cancer journey, and its important advisers understand the importance of comprehensive cancer cover to an employee-benefits package.”

*Research undertaken by OnePoll amongst 500 UK adults who are employed with cancer or have finished their cancer treatment. Field data from 4th – 13th December 2023. Findings utilised in Reframe Cancer’s The Employee Experience report: Living and working with cancer.

1 Based on a forecast of working age people (20-68) with cancer in the UK (2020) and using the NHS CancerData as source statistics, with adjustments for unemployment and cancer incidence rates.

2 The average employee will be absent from work for 15 weeks (approximately 75 working days based on full-time employment) during their cancer journey. Based on a forecast of 160,000 people of working age receiving a cancer diagnosis each year (see forecast details in footnote 1), with an average salary of £34,963 (Source: ONS Nov 2023) receiving a cancer diagnosis this equates to a forecast of £1.6 billion.

3 Source: MacMillan

4 Source: MacMillan