11 May 2020

Cancer doesn’t pause for Covid-19: Organisations must encourage employees to seek attention for medical concerns

With research finding that the number of urgent cancer referrals has reduced by 72%,1 businesses must utilise their health and wellbeing benefits and remind employees to seek medical attention if they have a concern, warns Towergate Health & Protection. Whilst medical services might be under more pressure during Covid-19, it is important that any health concerns are still investigated – ensuring that staff know that GP and specialist consultations can take place remotely online, urgent diagnostic tests are still available, and some cancer treatments can be provided in the home.

Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection says: “It is understandable why employees may be reluctant to approach medical institutions about health concerns at present – out of fear of infection or to respectively give healthcare professionals a wide berth, in order to allow them to focus on tackling the crisis and minimise the risk of Covid-19 spreading further. But unfortunately, just because many elements of daily life have stopped – cancer has not. Health and wellbeing benefits that employers offer their workforce are of particular value to employees right now, and it’s important that businesses encourage employees to make use of them and seek medical help, just as they would have done prior to the pandemic, should they have a concern.”

Early diagnosis

For many common cancers, survival rates triple when diagnosed at an early stage – making early detection crucial.2 With ovarian cancer, for example, 90% of women diagnosed at the earliest stage can survive their disease for at least five years, compared to around 5% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease.3 And more than nine in ten people with bowel cancer will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage.3 And considering that up to one in two people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime,4 it’s important to keep on top of early diagnoses, as treatment can potentially be more effective, less invasive and the overall outcome more positive.

It’s currently estimated that 2,300 cancer cases aren’t being diagnosed every week,5 as a result of the coronavirus. Therefore, utilising virtual GP services, available within a number of health and wellbeing benefits including private medical insurance (PMI) and some group life insurance or income protection plans, can be an important step in getting a concern investigated – creating a plan of action for further examination, or treatment if needed. Businesses need to remind employees to still continue to seek medical attention, as they would have prior to the pandemic, if they notice a change in their body such as a new lump, pain, increased fatigue or anything that isn’t normal for them. Early diagnosis is key to survival, so employees should be encouraged to investigate any concerns as usual.

Treatment amidst a pandemic

Whilst most non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled, to free up resources to address Covid-19, it’s important for employers to realise that PMI can still accommodate cancer treatment. Hormone therapies, for breast and prostate cancer, or radical radiotherapy can be used in place of surgery.4 And chemotherapy can be provided at home, potentially making treatment more comfortable and reducing the risk of contracting the virus.

Where an urgent physical examination or a diagnostic test is required, these can be provided in a clinically safe setting - with appropriate safeguards in place to protect patients from the risk of infection.

Brett Hill concludes: “Every stage of cancer can be worrying, especially during a pandemic, but the message to staff remains the same - seek advice if you have a health concern. Early diagnosis is one of the most important factors in achieving a positive outcome, so seek medical advice straight away. People can suffer unnecessarily, if cancer had been missed at the preliminary stage, and an early diagnosis can help avoid this.

“Private healthcare suppliers have developed lots of innovative solutions to work around pressures inflicted by Covid-19, and it’s worthwhile businesses reminding employees about the healthcare support that is available – both virtually and in person – to ensure that their health remains a top priority.”


1. http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/clinical/clinical-specialties/respiratory-/gp-urgent-cancer-referrals-decline-by-more-than-70-as-fewer-patients-come-forward/20040662.article 
2. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/our-research-by-cancer-topic/our-research-into-early-diagnosis 
3. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-symptoms/why-is-early-diagnosis-important 
4. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/risk 
5. https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2020/04/21/how-coronavirus-is-impacting-cancer-services-in-the-uk/