David Pye, client consulting director at Broadstone, considers how employers can best support employees with healthcare issues

“Over six million waiting for treatment,” “heart attack patient advised to get a taxi to A&E.” We have all seen the headlines, but what does it mean for your most important asset – your employees? And getting suitable diagnosis, treatment and expediting a speedy return to work – what’s your role as the employer?

It is impossible to mention our health service without acknowledging the fact that politics is a driving factor, but we don’t want to delve deeply into that in this article! What we do want to cover is how you, your business and employees are being affected alongside some ideas on how you can help.

The ‘standard’ answer to health issues within a workforce is often seen to be private medical cover and, if you have ever explored that avenue, you will know that the initial costs are not insubstantial and due to the potential exposure to claims history you can also find yourself with increases of 30-40% when you come to renew. It is also worth noting that in key targeted areas such as some cancers, stroke and diabetes the funding levels are such that a good service is still being maintained by the NHS. We should never forget that the consultants we may want to see privately also work in the NHS and also only have 24 hours in a day. Therefore, pressure for delivery is not just a symptom seen within NHS services and we have seen examples of private referrals to consultants actually being booked later than those booked via the NHS. There is also the postcode element of NHS treatment – some are better than others – and all of this should be considered when looking at your own strategy around prevention and early diagnosis which are key aspects of a successful wellbeing strategy.

 

Corporate culture

Successful health and wellbeing starts with the culture of a business and it is difficult (and expensive) to try and pay your way out of an unhealthy one. The extreme is a business that has the approach of longest hours worked is best. What facilities and structures within the business do you have to help employees and is there an open culture where things can be discussed and raised early or are they hidden until the issues become insurmountable. What does your suggestion box look like and what suggestions are being made? Listen to your workforce, what do they want? What will they value? Don’t make assumptions, just ‘tick a box’ or commit to just a single event and expect major results.

As an employer it is prevention and early diagnosis where you can probably have the greatest impact – both from both an employee welfare perspective and, ultimately, productivity!

Having a happy and healthy workforce obviously means your reliance on the medical profession is reduced. However, a key metric on successful treatment if intervention is needed (and ultimately a quicker return to work) is early diagnosis of issues. Early diagnosis and treatment isn’t just about ‘cure’ either. We need to remember that around 33% of your midlife workforce have two or more chronic conditions so it is often about managing these as well as possible to ensure that an individual can ‘carry on regardless.’ There is no cure so the aim is to make sure employees can be their best self at work despite their conditions.

 

Mental Health

An aspect of health and wellbeing that doesn’t always grab the dramatic headlines is mental health. There has been a dramatic increase in the requirements for help in this arena and when you consider that around 51% of these are highlighted as being caused by money worries and with all the cost of living increases we are all experiencing at present you can see that demand is unlikely to drop anytime soon.

So, as an employer who cares and wants the best for (and out of) their employees what are your options?

 

Options

Many employers start by setting up confidential helplines via Employee Assistance Programmes that cover many aspects and counselling/mental health is often included in these. But it is a sticking plaster on what can be an open wound. The limits of these services have been truly exposed over the last two years with the dramatic increase in demand, counsellors themselves having to work from home and not getting the group support that would normally surround them – and these services were generally quite limited in the first place! They are not a long-term answer to mental health issues.

It has also become clear that many employers don’t know what they have got. In the health and wellbeing sector there are a myriad of different options available to both employers and employees and, in truth, this is part of the problem facing both parties. The volume of options, added value services, limitations and structures are confusing and difficult to compare. Pears and Apples often come to mind when employers are considering which one best serves their needs and looking to ensure they and their employees get best value for money – the most expensive (probably private medical insurance) doesn’t always mean best.

 

The oft-unused benefits provided as part of your EAP

Look at the services and products you provide to employees already and check, do they have additional services? You wouldn’t be the first business to discover that you have access to three Employee Assistance Programmes and, if you do rationalise these, you need to understand what each commits to providing. Then tell your workforce, then tell them again and later on remind them. That way when they do need these services, they are more likely to remember before it is too late. Communication is essential and all too often overlooked.

Access to GPs is sporadic around the country, many added value services provide high grade virtual GP services so you can ensure employees can get access at any time of day and lead to much speedier referrals to specialists.

Access to corporate rates on health checks, screening, cancer checks etc are all part of the options you may want to consider – but don’t leave it until they are needed to implement. As an employer you can fund these checks but you can also just make them available. As a colleague of mine said recently, “what is £300 to get early diagnosis of cancer” and, after recently seeing a statistic that stated that 28% of Brits ignored a health concern, you can see how important early, confidential and discrete help can be.

 

So, look at what you have, what your employees want and commit to a plan (or don’t bother at all). And then communicate, communicate again and review.