04 February 2020

SMEs can play a significant role in tackling cancer and supporting employees

With one in two people expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime,1 a fact highlighted in advance of World Cancer Day on 4 February, SMEs can play a crucial role in supporting employees from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation - according to Towergate Health & Protection.

SMEs employ over 16 million people in the UK,2 representing 60% of the total workforce; yet many employers still don’t offer support with mental and physical health and wellbeing - deeming employee healthcare benefits as too expensive. But these benefits can be crucial in swiftly diagnosing cancer and providing rapid treatment, whilst looking after the financial and emotional impact the disease can have on employees and their loved ones.

Health and wellbeing support can be a lifesaver to employees, but it may feel like an additional cost-burden to the employer. There are many ways to make health and wellbeing initiatives more cost effective however, and SMEs can provide low- or no-cost alternatives to employees in a bid to tackle cancer – the second leading cause of death worldwide.3

Encourage lifestyle changes

Poor diet and lack of exercise are known contributors to cancer, so SMEs could offer nutrition talks and group physical team challenges to encourage their workforce to be healthier and more active. They could also consider offering smoking-cessation programmes, to help employees to kick the habit once and for all.

Offer individual health initiatives  

If SMEs are concerned that they can’t afford a suite of healthcare products, as typically found in private medical insurance (PMI) for example, it may be worthwhile considering offering individual initiatives instead that can help to tackle cancer. Health screenings, for example, can be offered standalone - giving employees the opportunity to identify cancer before it becomes more difficult to treat. Early intervention is crucial in the success rate of cancer treatment, and SMEs could give employees a lifeline in providing health screenings.

Tailor health and wellbeing programmes accordingly

SMEs may be missing out by assuming PMI and other health and wellbeing initiatives are too expensive - when it could be more affordable than they think. Providers and advisers can work to a SME’s budget, ensuring its health and wellbeing programme is cost effective and suitable for their workplace demographic. Whether a wellbeing app is used, helping employees to regain their fitness levels post-cancer surgery, or comprehensive group risk protections packages are implemented – covering an employee’s salary during sickness absence and providing access to specialist oncologists, second medical opinions or counselling – varying levels of support are available for all budgets. 

Brett Hill, Distribution Director for Towergate Health & Protection, comments: “SMEs are pivotal in supporting employees when it comes to cancer. They can support in the prevention of the disease, educating employees about how to be active and healthy; and provide medical, financial and emotional help should they ever be diagnosed with cancer.

“The most common cause across all group risk protection product claims is cancer,4 so we know how debilitating it can be for the individual and employer. Having a robust health and wellbeing strategy in place can make a significant difference between an employee feeling supported, in what may be a daunting time, or being left alone to fend for themselves. As employees are the backbone to UK SMEs, it makes financial and ethical sense to ensure their health and wellbeing is supported throughout.”


1. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/risk 
2. https://www.fsb.org.uk/uk-small-business-statistics.html 
3. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer 
4. https://www.abi.org.uk/news/news-articles/2019/04/protection-payouts-see-insurers-support-record-numbers-through-bereavement-sickness-and-injury