What is being done to support cancer survivors returning to work?

What is being done to support cancer survivors returning to work?

In light of the European Week Against Cancer, 25-31 May, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has published recent findings from its project which explores how cancer survivors are supported upon their return to work.

Around 1.4 million people of working age are diagnosed with cancer each year in Europe, with the average return to work rate being only 64% after 18 months. Cancer survivors are 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed and three times more likely to receive disability benefits.

The publications from the EU-OSHA identify instruments, practices, policies and interventions that can promote the successful rehabilitation and return to work of cancer survivors.

Personal and economical impact

EU-OSHA executive director Christa Sedlatschek said: “In addition to the detrimental effects that being out of work has on an individual’s wellbeing and finances, this situation has severe economic consequences for businesses and society as a whole.

“In fact, in 2009, working days lost as a result of cancer are estimated to have cost the European Union €9.5bn. Therefore, it is essential that companies implement effective strategies to help their employees get back to work following diagnosis of cancer.”

How can this be improved?

To help aid the rise of employment in cancer survivors, the ‘Rehabilitation and return to work after cancer – instruments and practices’ project from the EU-OSHA aims to raise awareness of problems faced by workers affected by cancer and develop guidance for employers on how best to support them in returning to work.

After surviving cancer, people suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. These issues reduce their ability to work and may be associated with negative attitudes among colleagues.

Scientific evidence suggests that multidisciplinary interventions involving a combination of physical and vocational rehabilitation measures and counselling can help in achieving a successful return to work.

Good practice examples

Forming part of the project, seven good practice examples from five EU member states were identified and analysed, which demonstrate a range of approaches to helping survivors get back to work.

One such programme, ‘Working through cancer’, is run by UK-based Macmillan Cancer Support and offers a range of services, from online information and e-learning modules to telephone support and in-company training courses.

A number of recommendations were made as a result of the success factors in the project, which were:

  • Legislation should be developed making it mandatory for all businesses to offer return-to-work programmes for workers, and support for this should be provided, particularly for SMEs;
  • Early implementation and good communication between all relevant stakeholders is essential for effective return-to-work interventions, and programmes should be tailored to workers’ needs;
  • Return-to-work programmes should be integrated into company policies, and sufficient time and resources should be allocated to providing information on cancer and return to work; and
  • Efforts should be made to encourage positive workplace attitudes towards people returning to work after cancer.

Press release: EU-OSHA

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