HR Commentator Steve Herbert shares his thoughts on how the NHS crisis is impacting employers and the steps HR can take to support their people

The vast majority of the UK public values the National Health Service (NHS).  Yet in January 2023 it is all too obvious that the NHS is in a state of crisis.

This matters to us all, as everyone within the UK is reliant on the safety-net of the NHS to some degree.

And it matters to employers too.

Reliant on the NHS

A Partners& survey in September 2022 found that just 15% of businesses offered all of their workers access to private healthcare.

The above findings suggest that the vast majority of employers remain heavily reliant on the NHS to efficiently treat their workforce, and quickly return them to health, the workplace, and full productivity.

Yet with an estimated 7.2 million people (around one in nine of the UK population) already waiting for NHS services, it seems unlikely that employees will get the rapid response that they (and by extension their employer) need in the months ahead.

The employer response?

What can employers do to mitigate this concern?

The obvious – but rather glib – answer to this question would be extending access to private healthcare treatments to all employees through a healthcare trust, group private medical insurance policy, or a quality health cashplan.

These options represent the ideal employer solution to the problem, but rather overlook the stark reality that many businesses just don’t have the budget to deliver such a solution to all of their workforce right now.  So employers may have to find other solutions and mitigations to this potential problem.

Below I present a simple three-point plan that may help any HR department in supporting their workforce in the year ahead.

 

1. Review

The first step for employers is to look at what is already available.

Core benefit offerings such as company-sponsored pensions, group life assurance, and group income protection plans should be well understood by all, but lift the lid on these offerings and you will often find a range of additional free (or very low-cost) tools such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and a range of counselling services that can also help your workforce.

Employers should therefore carefully explore the offerings available, and direct their employees to the best product in each case.

2. Augment

Having identified what is available, now look to fill some of the remaining gaps with low-cost options that can still provide some meaningful support.

Providing access to remote GP appointments is a cost-effective way of helping your employees bypass the challenges of securing an early and convenient appointment with their local surgery.

And offering wellbeing apps and websites should also be considered a preventative step to reduce the number of employees who may ultimately need medical assistance.  Support for physical, mental, and financial wellbeing are now widely available and are often only a nominal cost to the sponsoring employer.

Financial wellbeing can be further improved by the employer providing access to employee discount schemes for retail purchases (again a low-cost service).

Add those services to the existing benefits package identified in step one, and you are likely to have a more comprehensive offering to support your employees should they need medical interventions, and indeed keep your employees away from such medical treatment in the first place.

 

3. Communicate!

Lastly – but certainly not least – any employee benefits offering is only of real value if employees know what is available, where to find it, and how to access it quickly when needed.

So, review your communications, and put in place a plan to relaunch the benefits offering, and a further plan to regularly remind employees of the benefits throughout the calendar or business year.

 

 

Following the above three-step plan should ensure you get the best out of your benefits package for the lowest cost and – importantly – help at least some of your employees to avoid joining those lengthy NHS waiting lists in the months ahead.

 

 

About the author

Steve Herbert is Wellbeing & Benefits Director at Partners&