Healthcare | Why cancer screening must form part of employee benefit & wellbeing programmes

Why cancer screening must form part of employee benefit & wellbeing programmes

Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits interviews Professor Gordon Wishart, Chief Medical Officer at Check4Cancer

It stands to reason that when a machine is operating at maximum capacity, there’s little opportunity to increase output without improvements to its design. So, it is with NHS cancer services right now.

Faced with around 3 million missed screenings last year and tens of thousands of undiagnosed patients1 the NHS’ task of trying to simultaneously tackle the backlog while operating ‘normal’ service levels seems like mission impossible.

This has led experts to call for a complete overhaul to cancer services. One of those experts is Professor Gordon Wishart of Check4Cancer, Generali UK’s wellbeing partner, with whom we spoke recently to gain his insights into the public sector task in hand, and what employers could be doing to help their people now.

“Employers we work with recognise that diagnoses won’t come to light until the individual receives their delayed appointment or presents with symptoms. The later the stage of cancer, the bigger the impact on people and business in terms of absence, particularly where key people are concerned.

“Consequently, we’re currently seeing a lot more interest in cancer screening and diagnostic services, as part of benefit programmes, from employers, intermediaries and insurers,” comments Professor Wishart.

The public sector response

So, what is the response from cancer experts? An All-Party Parliamentary group, including Professor Wishart, recently handed over a paper to government, calling for an overhaul to cancer screening and diagnosis in the UK, advising that clearing the NHS post-Covid-19 backlog wouldn’t be enough.2

The report concludes that cancer referrals and clinical pathways have been substantially disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic. It says that with a growing backlog of tens of thousands of undiagnosed patients and exhausted frontline staff, it could take years to catch up.

As well as ringfenced investment, it is calling for an overhaul of cancer services, identifying three key areas for improvement: workforce, modern technology to support early diagnosis and new models of delivering care.

How can employers help?

First and foremost, screening is key. And this shouldn’t be just based on age, says Professor Wishart.

The UK has, under normal pre-pandemic times, a very robust screening programme and has worked hard over the years to encourage uptake. “But compared to other Western countries, the UK’s survival rates are not so good,” he adds. “We only spend around two thirds of what other countries spend on healthcare, including cancer. Plus, at the moment, the UK screening programme is based on age. And we’re increasingly finding that people are being diagnosed with cancer – through means other than the screening programme – at an earlier age.”

“We’re coming to the point where screening should be based on your risk, not your age. Age is just one risk factor amongst many, which include: family history, alcohol intake, obesity and in the case of breast cancer, the density of your mammogram; the higher the density, the higher your risk. In theory, the breast gets less dense the older you get, but some women have increased density beyond menopause and this needs to be factored in more.”

It’s for this reason that Check4Cancer has designed a cancer risk questionnaire, to identify those at highest risk so that they can be provided with appropriate screening tests.

Such are advancements in technology that most of these tests can also now be carried out at home. Check4Cancer provides tests for six of the main cancers: breast, bowel, cervical, lung, prostate and skin. Only the tests for breast cancer and skin cancer need to be carried out face to face in a clinic. Everything else can be done at home via swabs, samples or blood tests.

“This kind of approach to screening and diagnostics is very straightforward for employers to provide as part of their overall benefit and wellbeing programme. The questionnaire – ‘My Cancer Risk’ – identifies those at highest risk so that one of the six diagnostic tests can then be provided. For everyone else, it’s a case of education and awareness and encouraging of acceptance of NHS screening when it comes about,” adds Professor Wishart.

Check4Cancer’s My Cancer Risk questionnaire and cancer diagnostic tests are available to Generali Group Income Protection clients via the insurer’s Wellbeing Investment Matching initiative, which will contribute funding support where a specific need is identified.

Find out more about Generali

1 Three million missed out on cancer checks after coronavirus put screening on hold, Evening Standard, Oct 2020 

2 Cancer Summit. Catch up with Cancer – The Way Forward, All-Party Parliamentary Group, May 2021 

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Generali UK Employee Benefits

Generali UK provides Group Life Assurance, Group Income Protection - plus added-value wellbeing services - to the UK employees of multinational clients. Generali UK is also pioneering Wellbeing Investment Matching, helping clients fund discrete, tailored wellbeing initiatives where a need has been identified.

Access to a range of multinational pooling and captive solutions is available via: Generali Employee Benefits Network (GEB), and a range of non-life coverages is available via Generali Global Corporate & Commercial.