Fabrick blog on World Cancer Day Viewpoint


Posted by Fabrick on 27 January 2021

It has been identified that around 12,000 people working in the construction industry will be diagnosed with cancer every year. It has also been recognised that many construction workers do not go to see a doctor as regularly as they should, often due to the inability or reluctance to take time off work. This means that early diagnosis can sometimes be missed. So how do we go about changing this?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s lives. It has affected us financially, emotionally and has taken a devastating toll on our health. It has put a lot of people under increased pressure but it has also made us all think about our health more carefully. People’s diets have altered and we have seen changes in both lifestyle and the way we work; as well as a deeper understanding and appreciation of our health. The pandemic has affected us all and as such, it is a common topic. All too often we don’t like talking about our health and the male population is especially good at deferring and thinking ‘that twinge, that pain, that feeling is nothing to worry about and I’m ok’ when in fact, they should be going to a GP to be checked out.

The result of this deferment is that in many cases when someone is diagnosed, it can be too late. Cancer is one of the diseases that needs to be diagnosed as soon as possible, especially when you consider the statistics:

  1. Every 2 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer
  2. Four in ten cases of cancer in the UK are linked to lifestyle factors
  3. Almost half of cancers are diagnosed at a late stage
  4. Around 12,000 people working in construction and the built environment will be diagnosed with cancer every year

As someone who works in the built environment, that last figure puts it very much into perspective. Add this to the fact it is a very male dominated industry and males are not very good at getting themselves checked and the problem becomes compounded.

I’m privileged to be a Trustee of built environment cancer charity, We Build the Future. The charity works to improve support and advice for people who work in the construction and built environment sector who face the challenge of dealing with cancer in their lives. Helping to fund research, which can help accelerate improvements in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, the charity aims to promote health and wellbeing across the industry to help reduce the risk of people developing cancer in the first place.

We Build the Future is an official supporter of the world’s biggest cancer charity, Cancer Research UK. This ensures that any funds raised are used to support research whilst ensuring access to expert information and support for people working in the construction and built environment sector.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, We Build the Future had successfully delivered a pilot project to provide construction workers at King’s Cross with a free to attend drop-in clinic where they can meet with a medical practitioner to discuss issues relating to cancer.

The pilot project saw a two-hour Site Surgery held at York Way, King’s Cross, every Wednesday. This allowed site operatives the ability to have an appointment that means they do not have to travel to their doctor, enabling them to fit in around work schedules. Construction workers were to book an appointment or walk in and wait to be seen. The primary aim was to discuss issues they were facing in relation to cancer – whether personally or in regard to a family member.

As part of the pilot scheme, questions were raised around the barriers to construction workers accessing health in primary care and does an on-site GP surgery improve their access, and thereby their health?

King’s Cross was chosen as it is one of the UK’s largest redevelopment programmes. The scheme involves thousands of workers, employed by various contractors, sub-contractors and consultants. The pilot has seen support from a number of King’s Cross contractors and developers including Argent, BAM, Lendlease, Kier and JRL Midgard.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate and as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t gone away. Funding is required to continue research to find a cure but like many charities, Cancer Research UK has found fundraising very difficult over the past year. Whilst the pilot Site Surgery has proved a success in engaging directly with construction workers, lockdown has made it difficult for it to continue.

However, I would like to think that as we come out of lockdown, the Site Surgery can be reinstated and its engagement with the sector can continue to grow. The last 12 months have made us all think about our health and I hope that by making access to health professionals more readily available, we will reach more people and help diagnose cases sooner by talking about it and tackling it head on.

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