08 May 2019

Why companies should offer the equivalent of NHS health screening for overseas female staff

Employers with overseas-based female staff need to ensure that their employee benefits package incorporates health screening for women and that it is the equivalent of the screening they would have received via the NHS had they been living in the UK. This is the warning from Towergate Health & Protection, who estimates that many companies may be tempted to focus on treatment rather than preventative measures when choosing health insurance policies.

When working within the UK, female employers become accustomed to receiving regular communication from their GP or local health trust, inviting them for a number of screenings, including cervical smears, breast cancer, bowel cancer, and during pregnancy*. Generally women are invited for these tests via a timely letter issued at specific intervals or at a specific age. Unfortunately when employees are based overseas, this is not necessarily the case.

Sarah Dennis, head of international said: “Health screening is something that we may take for granted in the UK. We also get used to the NHS reminding us so it’s easy to forget when checks are due. As there’s no NHS outside the UK, there is unlikely to be automatic screening offered at no cost for staff working abroad. If employers want to offer the same level of screening to staff overseas as they’d be offered in the UK, they need to proactively ensure it’s made available.

“Unfortunately not every health insurance policy is made equal and although screening is simple and inexpensive to include, it is not built in to every health insurers’ policy. Employers need to ensure that screening is included, and actively encourage women to make use of it.”

Consistency of cover

Consistency of cover is another issue for an employer to consider. Company staff in different locations around the world all need to be offered the same level of screening support – not only to ensure an equality in duty of care but, should a member of staff relocate from one overseas office to another, they will expect comparable levels of medical support.

Sarah Dennis continued: “It’s often when someone changes roles and is relocated to a new territory that inconsistences in a company’s policy in relation to screening comes to light. However, it is definitely worth employers taking the time to get this right, as a comprehensive approach to health screening can be so effective at demonstrating that no matter how remote the individual, their employer is taking a proactive approach to their health.”

Men’s equivalent

Screening is of course not limited to women and there are also various men’s screening plans available via the NHS – although fewer than for women. The important point is that if a screening programme is available on the NHS, then overseas workers – both men and women – should be able to access similar support whilst working abroad.

Sarah Dennis concluded: “Screening is a way of identifying when apparently healthy people may have an increased risk of a particular condition, and an early diagnosis can mean a much better chance of successful treatment. Therefore not only is it in the best interests of employees to be screened but screening can also help manage future absences, long-term sickness and even potential insurance claims for the employer too.”