How businesses can support the NHS and help employees

Doctors' numbers have fallen in recent year.
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With the NHS under strain as staff and funding shortfalls bite, businesses increasingly risk losing employees to ill-health and time off for appointments. Brian Hall of employee health and wellbeing firm BHSF suggests firms could help themselves by being more proactive. 

The NHS has been a valuable part of our society, managing the public’s health for more than 70 years, and while 87% of the British public say they’re proud of the NHS according to YouGov, there’s no denying that it faces challenges that are are now impacting business too.

Waiting times for employees’ non-urgent hospital referrals is quoted by the NHS itself to be a maximum of 18 weeks. That’s over a four-month wait but for some, that wait is often longer.

GPs are stretched more than ever: the government pledged in 2015 to increase the number of GPs in England by 5,000 by 2020, but numbers actually fell by more than 1,000 by 2018.

In a survey conducted by the British Medical Association, 93% of GPs themselves reported that their workload had had negative effects on patient care.

One of these negative effects is that the length of GP waiting times means employees aren’t getting the care they need quickly enough. The Royal College of General Practitioners suggest that by 2022 there will be more than 100 million incidents of a patient waiting a week or more to see a GP or practice nurse.

The NHS has helped millions of people since its inception and for it to continue to help millions more, there are things businesses must now do to help relieve the pressures on this valuable service and reduce the impact upon their costs and productivity.

What can employers do to support the NHS?

Having strategies to manage the wellbeing of employees is now simple to implement and are highly effective in providing alternative options to just relying on NHS services. Many affordable options are available to help employees get the support they need more quickly, removing them from lengthy waiting lists.

This will also give other patients, who don’t have access to employee health and wellbeing programmes, the chance to move up the NHS queue.

The effectiveness of wellbeing strategies

The concept of “workplace wellbeing” has grown rapidly over the past decade or so, and for good reason. In my experience, wellbeing strategies increase employee productivity, improve employee engagement and reduce sickness absence and presenteeism rates.

Suggestions can be made to help employees prevent illnesses, such as tips on eating healthily and drinking responsibly. These contribute to them avoiding developing diseases associated with obesity – like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Preventing these illnesses will undoubtedly help to reduce the impact on the NHS.

Mental health support

Work-related stress and mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, now account for more than half of all sickness absences from work in the UK. This equates to more than 15 million working days and is quoted to cost businesses about £2.4bn a year.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has previously warned that thousands of patients are waiting more than six months for access to psychological “talking therapies” to help them cope with negative thoughts and feelings; this need not be the case for employees if employers put the right strategies in place.

Providing mental health support for your employees is essential. It can be provided in a variety of ways, including through occupational health or confidential counselling. Dedicated strategies that cover line-manager training, mental health first-aiders and encouraging an open culture so that employees feel comfortable talking about their thoughts and feelings, are also effective ways to support your employees’ mental health and ensures that if employees are struggling, they know help is available and where to get this.

Access to specialists

Pressure on the NHS can also be relieved by giving employees access to specialists via employee benefits. For example, a GP helpline that gives employees 24/7 access means they can speak to a doctor at a time and date that suits them. Not only do your employees benefit from on-demand support, but companies also benefit because employees don’t need to book time off work to visit their local GP, often with a lengthy commute there and back.

We already know that getting to see a GP is a challenge and employees could be waiting more than a week for an appointment, so this kind of benefit ensures they don’t ignore the first signs of illness and seek help much earlier.

Local GP practices and walk-in centres benefit too, these services can be freed-up to be used by people who don’t have alternative access to healthcare.

Supporting strategies such as those above have never been more affordable for employers, and are now accepted as being net contributors to the bottom line. As public resources become more and more strained (unless there is a change of approach from central government), businesses promoting employee wellbeing can help not only to make a positive impact on their workplace, but also on the wider society.

Brian Hall

About Brian Hall

Brian is chief commercial officer at BHSF – a not-for-profit health and wellbeing provider and chair of the Institute of Directors in the West Midlands.
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