Think-tank calls on government to give more priority to fighting musculoskeletal disorders

The government needs to give greater priority to tackling musculo­skeletal disorders (MSDs), including doing more to encourage emp­loyers to provide occupational health support, if it is serious about making inroads into the cost to the nation of workplace ill-health ill, a leading think-tank has said.

The Work Foundation said early intervention was the key to getting MSD sufferers back into work, and that many recovered more quickly by staying in work in the first place.

Employers and GPs needed to focus more on what people could still do at work, even if the job needed to be redesigned, rather than assuming they were incapable of coming in, the Work Foundation said.

While much of the workplace health debate focused on stress, in fact MSDs affected twice as many people, accounted for up to one-third of all GP consultations, caused £9.5m in lost working days and cost society £7.4bn, the think-tank said.

Better job design was another key factor in reducing MSDs, while better mechanisms to assess and monitor the social and work impact of MSDs were needed, it added.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should take into account the impact of lost working time when examining the economic effectiveness of different therapies, according to the Work Foundation.

Michelle Mahdon, senior researcher at the Work Foundation, said: “What urgently needs to change is the attitude of many GPs and employers that an MSD sufferer must be 100% well before any return to work can be contemplated. Too many see only incapacity rather than capacity.”

The government also needed to urgently rethink how health agencies co-ordinated their treatment of MSDs, in particular how they offered greater support to small businesses.

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