The cancer backlog: how can employee health checks help?

employee health checks

Across the duration of the pandemic, every aspect of our lives has been impacted, from taking the bus to not seeing our loved ones. But one devastating effect of COVID-19 has been on cancer care, with huge numbers of missed health checks leading to missed diagnoses and delayed treatments.

We spoke to Nikola Jack, Corporate Account Executive at Check4Cancer, providing insights into employee cancer screening tests and the huge impact of incorporating cancer screenings into your employee benefits plan.

Engage and Check4Cancer formed a new partnership earlier this year in March – something we were very excited about, especially to help combat the effect of Covid over health screenings.

A way that organisations can help ease the pressure off the backlog is through establishing cancer screening tests for their employees to enable them to take control of their health. A proactive approach to managing cancer helps with early detection and can lead to better treatment options and improved survival rates.

What are employee health checks for cancer? 

Employee cancer screening tests are a preventive measure that can be incorporated into an organisation’s wellbeing strategy.

When providing these employee health checks for cancer, the two main motivations to remember are prevention (education to flag up risk factors for each type of cancer) and early detection (leading to earlier action). The earlier an employee can receive treatment, the greater the chance of successful recovery, leading to less time off work (from a business perspective!).

Employee health checks can be offered at a range of different levels, and often most health assessments will directly support cancer health checks. Some examples of which employee health checks support cancer screening are listed below:

  • Medical History Questionnaire
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cervical Smear
  • Chest x-ray
  • Prostate Cancer Blood Test
  • Full Biochemistry Profile
  • Lung Function Test
  • Testicular Examination
  • Bowel Cancer Test
  • Breast Examination
  • Mammography

Company Medical Insurance is also another way employers can support their staff with cancer care. This benefit plan enables employees to have access to direct treatment and specialist consultations, avoiding the NHS waiting list and speeding up the whole process. Typical covers can include:

  • Consultations with specialists
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Operations and surgical procedures
  • Cancer treatment e.g., radio/chemotherapy
  • Cancer drugs
  • Physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic treatment
  • Mental health and psychiatric treatment


These employee benefits are an easy way for organisations to show they care for their staff, and target both the physical and mental fallout experienced from cancer.

Current climate affecting cancer care and employee health checks

During the first year of the pandemic, 369,000 fewer people than estimated were referred to a specialist for cancer diagnosis, leading to an estimated 19,500 people with missed cancer diagnoses (Institute for Public Policy Research). At this time, it was also predicted that the problem of missed diagnoses and cancer support would resolve itself in a few months – but no one could have predicted the dragged-out duration of the pandemic.

The NHS waiting list is currently at a record high of around 4.6 million, with 300,000 of those being on hold for more than 12 months. This is in comparison to 1,600 before the pandemic, showing the influence of COVID-19 over cancer treatment and care.

Cancer Screening Backlog 

The emergence of a cancer screening backlog, often referred to as ‘missing patients’, will worryingly take the nation a lot to recover from. The proportion of highly curable cancers diagnosed fell from 44% (pre-pandemic) down to 41% last year, with estimations of the NHS England cancer services taking more than 10 years to be on top of the backlog (IPPR).

For example, almost 1 million British women missed a breast cancer screening during the height of the first lockdown  (Breast Cancer Now) which means that potentially there are many missed cancers that will present at a later stage, when the treatment outcomes may not be as effective if the cancer was caught earlier.

This backlog not only means that potential cancer patients are missing out on life-saving treatments, but those missing patients will also eventually emerge causing an even larger increase in the cancer backlog. The IPPR report Building Back Cancer Services in England estimates that 75% of the missing cancer patients will eventually need some form of NHS service, and 90% of those already diagnosed will also emerge for cancer treatments e.g., chemotherapy, radiotherapy, palliative care. This will cause even more strain on an already thinly stretched NHS.

Why are employee health checks for cancer so important? 

Employee health checks for cancer are becoming more and more important to help with cancer screening backlogs, where early diagnosis means an increased range of treatment options, improving long-term survival, and quality of life. NHS cancer care is still adjusting to staff being spread across critical support roles to deal with pressures from the pandemic, as well as the stopping of cancer screenings early in 2020 (although having started up again).

Cancer Research UK revealed that, from March to August 2020, 45% of those with potential cancer symptoms did not contact their doctor.
The reasons for this are:

  • worrying about wasting healthcare professionals’ time
  • worrying about burdening and putting more strain on the NHS
  • fear of contracting COVID-19
  • not wanting to be seen as making a fuss during the pandemic

By ensuring more staff are going through employee health checks at work, it places staff in a worry-free environment whilst also diverting strain away from the already huge cancer screening backlog.
Nikola Jack, from Check4Cancer, provided us with an insight into the different types of cancer health screenings – which is the most popular and how our clients can access their services (and even gain a discount!). Nikola outlines, “we have provided over 50,000 cancer checks, and our skin cancer screening service called SkinCheck is very popular.” Reasons for this popularity are, “it’s available for both genders and 18+ whereas all the other screenings you have to be older to have them. Plus, the SkinCheck itself is very thorough and face to face.”

Our clients can access discounted cancer health screenings at Check4Cancer – just click through this link here.

What are the benefits of employee health checks for employers and staff? 

Promoting employee health checks as part of an organisation’s overall wellbeing strategy can reap many benefits both for the employer and their staff, especially with the focus on cancer screenings in response to the current climate.

Examples of these benefits:

  • shows an Employer Duty of Care
  • Faster screening process – avoiding adding to the waiting list backlog
  • Provides emotional and clinical support for staff experiencing cancer both first and second hand
  • Promotes a healthy work environment and lifestyles e.g., weight management, physical exercise, quit-smoking programmes (reducing risk factors)
  • Raises awareness of cancer
  • Makes the workplace a supportive space for staff to ensure wellbeing

Employers should be proactive in encouraging staff to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. This can be achieved through employee health checks for cancer for early detection, prevention, and diagnoses.

(6 Reasons Why Businesses Offer Top Employee Health Screening to Top Staff)

Nikola also explained just how important cancer health screenings included in employee benefits are. Using an example of a real-life case study of an employee Dan Wood who underwent a prostate cancer screening through his employee benefits platform at work, discovering he had prostate cancer even without symptoms.

Nikola outlined how “without taking this screening the outcome could have been very different for him”, highlighting the necessity of cancer health screenings at work. Check out Dan’s story here.

Are health checks the way forward?

Dealing with cancer care is always a daunting prospect, whether that’s experienced first or second hand, but the pressures added from the fallout of the pandemic have only made it even harder. Especially in this current climate of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, employers need to be promoting policies that support the cancer care ecosystem as well as the individual needs of their staff.

By ensuring staff have access to employee health checks for cancer, organisations can target the different pillars of wellbeing, particularly the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. Look here to find out what else can be included in employee health checks and health screenings.

Contact us at Engage for our free no-obligation advice and support, where our People-Centred Design can help you feel reassured in employee wellbeing benefits and needs, fitting with your work culture. 

Picture of Eleanor Chilvers

Eleanor Chilvers

Eleanor started at Engage in 2021, and is now a Digital Content Writer after studying BA English Literature at University of Sussex for the last 3 years.

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