Employment support for breast cancer sufferers ‘highly limited’

Many women forced to return to work because of financial strain, international study finds

Irish breast cancer patients and survivors have less support in returning to work than sufferers of the disease in other European countries, an international survey has concluded.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report published on Tuesday showed that a third of Irish breast cancer patients had not returned to work a year after diagnosis compared to 43 per cent in the Netherlands.

In addition 55 per cent of breast cancer sufferers had to dip into their savings and 11 per cent had to borrow money to meet cancer-related expenses.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) had left work entirely.

The information comes from a survey of 621 cancer patients in Ireland and many more across Europe.

The EIU said Ireland’s Employment Equality Act classifies a cancer diagnosis as a disability. However employers are able to dismiss any employee who, in their opinion, is no longer able to fulfil the requirements of the job in question.

Financial strain

It also stated that practical support for Irish women returning to work is “highly limited”. Employers are not required to offer sick pay though many do and nor do they have to pay employees for time needed for medical appointments.

The EIU noted that there is no formal return-to-work process or support for breast cancer patients in Ireland and any arrangements to ease the transition are the result of voluntary negotiations between employer and employee.

Interviews with cancer sufferers found those who are under financial stress return to work more quickly, particularly those who do not qualify for free care and those who are self-employed.

As a result many who returned to work cited reasons of reduced income and fear of dismissal as the reason for their return rather than any desire to get back into employment.

The EIU found Ireland has the age-standardised fifth-highest rate of breast cancer in Europe at 92.3 per 100,000 (the EU average is 91.1 per 100,000).