March 8, 2021

World Cancer Day – PMI will be a key focus for employers in 2021 looking to access cancer services faster, says benefits expert

On World Cancer Day (4th Feb), Cheryl Brennan, Executive Director for Health and Benefits at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, says that the latest lockdown is causing growing concern about the potential disruption to cancer services, leading more employers to consider Private Medical Insurance (PMI) for their employees.

The Prince of Wales[i] who is a patron of Macmillan Cancer Support, recently warned that cancer risks being the ‘forgotten C’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the charity estimating that 50,000 people could be living with undiagnosed cancer because of delays to NHS services.

One NHS Trust in London has put potentially life-saving cancer operations on hold because of the number of beds taken by COVID-19 patients[ii]. Cancer operations have also been put on hold in Greater Manchester[iii].  Other Trusts across the UK may follow suit if COVID hospitalisations increase.

Cancer Research estimates 50% people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime[iv] – meaning many people will be diagnosed and living with cancer during their working lives.

Cheryl Brennan says, “Cancer services have been severely disrupted since the start of the pandemic. Now we are in a third lockdown this is starting to halt services again and there is concern about what this will mean for people with undetected cancers. Early referral, diagnosis and treatment can be the difference between life and death.

“Over the past year we’ve seen more employers auditing their health and benefits packages in light of the pandemic to check they are still fit for purpose. This has led to rising numbers of companies introducing PMI for the first time or extending existing policies to include more of their workforce.”

“PMI gives employees access to critical early diagnosis and treatment faster and affords them greater choice over their preferred hospital and consultant, and even access to drugs not widely available on the NHS. Some will also include access to virtual GPs which can be speed up a diagnosis for people during the pandemic.

“This is going to be a valuable benefit for employees in the future and something that can help companies stand out as an employer of choice. Companies that look after their employees can also expect a healthier, more motivated and productive workforce, with less absenteeism due to ill health. However, its important companies don’t just opt for the first policy they find, as it’s not a one size fits all.

“Healthcare benefits can be complex. It’s not always the case that employers need to offer premium insurance policies, there are a wide range of options for every employer whatever their budget.  Often companies don’t know what to look for or are unable to access the best deals. We recommend they seek advice from a qualified broker, such as Howden, who can do all the leg work and be able to find the level of cover that is tailored to the profile of the workforce and works for their budget.”

Professor Gordon Wishart, Chief Medical Officer at Check4Cancer, a provider of early detection and genetic services in the UK and a recognised Howden partner, added: “With COVID-19 restrictions in place until later in 2021, and against the massive disruption of cancer services in 2020, we have seen increased activity across our cancer services. Many insurers now provide their members with access to our diagnostic cancer pathways but, with reduced access to NHS screening, our corporate cancer screening activity has significantly increased interest in our cancer risk questionnaire (MyCancerRisk) that identifies those employees at “higher risk” of six common cancers so that they can access company-paid screening”