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Tips on working with a long-term medical condition

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

What is a long-term medical condition?

More than 15 million people in England, that’s about one in three, have what’s classed as a long-term medical condition. The conditions covered include diabetes, cancer and arthritis as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and mental health issues.

Some people with a long-term health problem won’t be capable of working but if you are able and want to work, it can be really good for you.

Most of us need to work to earn money but it’s also good psychologically. It can give you another focus and take your mind off your health worries.

What rights have you got?

Some people worry their boss won’t be sympathetic and may try to find an excuse to get rid of them.

If you have a long-term medical condition you may have protection in law that requires your employer to make adjustments to your workplace and the type of work you do.

Laura Dillingham is Working Through Cancer Project Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support. She says, "When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are automatically classed as disabled for the purposes of discrimination law and protected from workplace discrimination."

The act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability.

Making adjustments?

It really depends on what condition you have but your employer may be able to make simple changes to the way you work that will make a big difference to you.

It may help to have a practical meeting with your employer about the situation. The focus can be on simple steps that can be taken to meet your needs.

It might help you to take a colleague, friend or union rep in with you to this meeting if you are nervous, to give support.

You don’t know what can be done until you ask.

Change your role

You may be able to change your job within the organisation. For example if you have COPD and your job involves a lot of walking or carrying, you may be offered a desk job that will stop you getting so breathless.

Dr Keith Prowse is a spokesman for the British Lung Foundation.

He says, "Employers can make sure you don’t have to go up flights of stairs to your desk and make sure your work station is near to a loo and also give you a parking space close to the entrance to your work".

He says people with breathing difficulties like COPD and asthma shouldn’t be exposed to fumes or even strong smells like plug-in air fresheners which can cause a lot of discomfort.

Change your workspace

Simple changes could be made to your workspace: for example bringing in special equipment that may help reduce the demands on you.

Ann Chaplin from the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability says, "If you have a disability like MS or arthritis, help is available. If you can’t manage computer keyboards any more there is lots of voice-activated software available which can be used instead."

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