Some cancer patients face a “cliff edge” of choosing between their health and finances as the shielding programme draws to a close, a charity has warned.
Macmillan Cancer Support said that the shielding programme, whereby people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable to the risks of Covid-19 have been asked to take extra measures to protect themselves, has been a “vital lifeline”.
But the programme, which will be “paused” from August 1 in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and on August 16 in Wales, will see many people forced to return to work.
A survey conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support, and shared with the PA news agency, found that many cancer patients were fearful of returning to workplaces, with 42% saying they feel it is currently unsafe for them to work outside of their home.
It is critical that we allow them to step back from the cliff edge of having to choose between protecting their health or staying in workLynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support
One in three (36%) people with cancer in work said that Covid-19 had affected their finances, with some saying they have been left struggling to pay their bills.
Macmillan Cancer Support has called on the Government to extend the furlough scheme to help people classed as clinically vulnerable.
It is also calling for greater clarity on workplace protections for people with cancer who are returning to work.
Meanwhile, employers must also play their part by ensuring they make provisions for vulnerable staff, the charity said.
It said there could be devastating consequences if people with cancer are forced to return to workplaces before it is safe.
The poll of 2,000 British adults with a previous cancer diagnosis found that 6% had already been asked to leave the safety of their homes and go back to their workplace.
Four per cent of cancer patients in the UK said that they had struggled to pay for basic essentials or bills, such as food or energy, during the coronavirus crisis – when extrapolated, this means 110,000 people with cancer have struggled this way, the charity said.
From 1 August, people who are shielding will be able to return to work if they cannot work at home. For anyone concerned about returning to work, we recommend speaking to your employer to understand their specific policies around health & safety.https://t.co/F8RlQBtcnL pic.twitter.com/jaiMyytcxL— NHS HMR CCG (@NHSHMR) July 28, 2020
And an estimated 60,000 people living with cancer (2%) have been left with no income at all during the pandemic, it added.
The charity has seen a surge in calls to its help services about coronavirus and work.
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The measures put in place by governments during the coronavirus pandemic for those shielding has been a vital lifeline for many over the last four months.
“It is critical that this safety net doesn’t just disappear. We need clarity around how people with cancer will be supported and kept safe as the world starts to return to normal.
“Cancer must not become the ‘forgotten C’ in this pandemic. As the UK Government encourages people in England to return to work, stronger protections must be put in place for people who have been shielding or are clinically vulnerable.
“It is critical that we allow them to step back from the cliff edge of having to choose between protecting their health or staying in work and paying their bills.”
It comes as the union Unite raised concerns over a number of issues as shielding workers return to their workplaces.
Issues could include mental health of employees and concerns about disciplinary procedures for those too worried to return to work.
The union said employers should have organised health assessments to protect vulnerable workers.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The world of work has fundamentally changed since March and as we ease back into the workplace, we need to pay special attention to the concerns of those who have been shielding these last five months.
“There is an arbitrary ring to the August 1 date and we question whether ministers have thought through all the implications as thousands of shielding workers gingerly return to their place of employment.
“There has been insufficient time allowed by this announcement for many individuals to mentally adjust to the proposed physical return to work, often on possibly crowded public transport; let alone sorting out with their employer risks associated with travel and workplace assessment.
“In union organised workplaces, Unite representatives will be on hand to manage the expected spike in members experiencing extreme workplace anxiety – from mental health issues to maintaining the two metre social distancing rule for this group, rather than the more relaxed ‘one metre plus’ favoured by the Prime Minister.
“Yet, as we have seen with the outbreak of pandemic clusters, unscrupulous employers have brushed aside safety measures. This cliff edge date takes no account of bad bosses and risks plunging extremely vulnerable people into the Hobson’s choice of no income or being put at risk by what is a deadly virus that has already claimed more than 45,000 lives in the UK.”
A Government spokesman said: “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for those with cancer and we must do everything we can to support them.
“Employers must ensure the safety of those with such conditions when considering working arrangements, including whether work can be completed remotely.
“For those that cannot safely return to work, employers can continue to access the Job Retention Scheme and we have put an additional £8bn into the welfare system to provide emergency support.”