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New policy must be adopted to protect cancer patients’ work rights

A Loughborough academic has called for cancer patients to be given similar work rights to pregnant women.

Dr Fehmidah Munir, an expert on workplace health, is part of a European group hoping to implement international guidelines for cancer and work.

Each year in Europe, 3.2 million new cancer patients are diagnosed, including 1.6 million patients of working age. The number of cancer survivors is rapidly growing due to improved treatment and ageing population.

But little support is given to employers to educate them about the long-term effects of cancer and how they can best support their employees to return to work.

Dr Munir says European countries could learn a lot from their neighbours in the Netherlands, who provide financial support to employers to help them get cancer survivors back to work.

Dr Munir is vice chair of the H2020 COST Action CANcer and WOrk Network (CANWON) – a group of European academics charged with researching and disseminating good practise on work and cancer. She said:

“There is currently not enough support to help people get back to work. The side effects of cancer and its treatment can last a long time, and employers just aren’t aware of the long-term impact it can have on employees.

“When a woman becomes pregnant there are strict guidelines in place to protect both her welfare and her job. There needs to be a similar package in place for cancer patients and cancer survivors. 

“Not only do we need to see improved information available to employers and better, more consistent advice offered by healthcare providers, but we’re also calling for an effective rehabilitation programme that covers both psychological and physical recovery with returning to work in mind.”

The CANWON guidelines call for:

  • A more joined up approach between employers, physicians and patients.
  • Return to work to be addressed and supported from an early stage of treatment.
  • More information on cancer available to employers, and a better understanding for all of the physical, emotional and social aspects of life during and after cancer treatment.
  • The provision of workplace visits, partial capacity schemes and adapt working conditions for employees.
  • A better balance of employer and employee needs.

CANWON has started to disseminate its guidelines to policy makers and cancer societies across Europe.

Read the full guidelines

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 16/147

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