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Effective return to work programmes after cancer are ‘essential’, says EU-OSHA

European businesses need to do more to support employees return to work after a cancer diagnosis, according to a new report.

Effective return to work programmes after cancer are ‘essential’, says EU-OSHA
Image credit: ©MoustacheGirl

The report is based on a recent study commissioned by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) that examined the issues faced by workers affected by cancer.
Researchers said optimising the rehabilitation and return of those affected by cancer would improve their wellbeing and reduce the financial impacts of the disease on European businesses.
They have recommended the development of new legislation that obliges all employers to offer return-to-work programmes for their employees.  
The report, Rehabilitation and Return to Work after Cancer — instruments and practices, highlights that the overall risk of unemployment among cancer survivors is 1.4 times higher than for people who have never been diagnosed with the disease.
Cancer survivors often experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, as well as fatigue, which can limit their ability to work and may be associated with negative attitudes among colleagues.
The report suggests that employers which implement multidisciplinary interventions, involving physical and vocational rehabilitation measures and counselling, are more likely to help those affected return to work successfully.
It says that companies with fewer than 250 staff need additional support and education in assisting with rehabilitation because “it is harder for them to accommodate work modifications and provide gradual return to work, as they have less flexibility”. 
The study identified several examples of good-practice interventions from five EU member states, one of which was the Working Through Cancer programme run by Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK.
This “comprehensive” intervention offers a range of resources, from online information, toolkits and e-learning modules to telephone support and in-company training. It is tailored to the needs of workers and their families, employers, HR managers and healthcare providers. 
Other good practice examples listed in the report include:

  • Working Health Services in Scotland, which provides information for physiotherapists, occupational health providers (OHPs) and nurses, psychologists and counsellors. A face to face consultation with the patient means the programme is specifically tailored to their needs
  • The Netherlands’ “in-hospital rehabilitation” intervention, which is carried out by oncology nurses trained in occupational issues. It features modules for various stakeholders and encourages communication between the employer, employees and the OHP.
  • The Return back to Work programme run by the Cancer Society Finland, which targets both employers and the cancer survivor’s family members.

In addition to calling for new legislation mandating personalised return to work programmes for workers affected by cancer, the report says these programmes should be integrated into company policies, with sufficient time and resources allocated to providing information on cancer and return to work. 
It says good communication between stakeholders is “essential” for return-to-work interventions to succeed and believes more effort is needed to encourage positive workplace attitudes towards people returning to work after cancer.
Christa Sedlatschek, EU-OSHA’s executive director, 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 2009, working days lost as a result of cancer are estimated to have cost the European Union €9.5bn [£8.4bn].
“Therefore, it is essential that companies implement effective strategies to help their employees get back to work following diagnosis of cancer.”


Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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