Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease costs firms millions

Four workers out of 10 aged between 45 and 67 who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are forced to retire prematurely because of the condition, research has suggested.

The study, COPD uncovered: an international survey on the impact of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on a working age population, by charity Education for Health, was presented at this year’s European Respiratory Society congress and published in the online BMC Public Health journal.

It calculated the estimated lifetime income loss per individual because of such premature retirement to be $316,000 (£200,000), giving a combined total of $141 million (£89.6 million) for the cohort studied.

COPD was also costing employers in productivity and sick leave. In Europe, productivity losses amounted to a total of €28.5 billion per year, it calculated.

The report found that the average age of retirement of someone with COPD is around 54, and that the disease led to reduced tax and pension contributions and an increase in the use of healthcare systems.

For those remaining in active employment, lost time from absence from work resulted in average lifetime losses of $7,365 (£4,661), rising to as high as $20,805 (£13,257) in Turkey.

More than one-fifth (22%) of those polled said that they needed regular care on a daily basis from family and friends, and, of these, more than half needed constant care for at least part of every day. Loss of income on an annual basis for carers was $16,045 (£10,155).

The total annual healthcare bill was estimated to be $5.74 million (£3.63 million), excluding the cost of pulmonary rehabilitation, with the annual cost per individual estimated at $2,364 (£1,500).

More than half of those polled had accessed primary care services within the previous month.

The report also recommended that healthcare professionals had appropriate knowledge to treat people with COPD effectively, measure the health status of each patient to assess the full impact of COPD symptoms on their life, and design patient management plans to address all elements of a patient’s life, including ability to work, rather than focusing solely on clinical measures.

Employers, too, needed to provide more access to smoking-cessation programmes and health and wellbeing information messages.

They needed to “consider liaising with an occupational health practitioner to ensure any information/programmes/environmental assistance they provide is beneficial and tailored to their workforce” and keep themselves informed about the impact of COPD on their business and employees, it recommended.

Monica Fletcher, chief executive of Education for Health and lead author, said: “Significant benefits could be achieved if greater steps were taken to prevent the condition, such as earlier diagnosis and appropriate management strategies.”

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