Broadstone’s ‘Employers and the health of the nation’: Discussing the NHS, economic inactivity, and occupational healthcare

Published in September, Broadstone’s ‘Employers and the health of the nation’ white paper explores the economic inactivity of the UK workforce, driven by ill health and the rising prevalence of poor mental health.  

Related topics:  Broadstone,  Report
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
21st September 2023
NHS delays
"With the NHS crisis unlikely to ease in the near future, this white paper takes stock of the situation to uncover how business leaders are approaching the health and wellbeing of their workforce."
- Brett Hill, head of health & protection at Broadstone

According to Brett Hill, head of health & protection at Broadstone, the NHS waiting lists have risen “inexorably as the treatment backlog from [the pandemic] has snowballed.”

Describing the NHS as “a system on its knees,” he believes public healthcare is in crisis and fatal consequences are “rippling through the economy,” especially for those in employment. To be rendered unemployed would cause a significant loss of income which, for most people, would result in falling back on the “social security net.” Alongside halted career progression, this can cause “permanent scarring to career salaries and savings,” with those able to return to work having to change “the nature of the work they do, re-train to find employment in new sectors or reduce their hours.”

Discussing the occupational health perspective, Dr Alasdair Emslie, chief medical officer at Health Partners, explained that “people are struggling to access diagnoses and post-diagnosis, it’s a challenge to access outpatient appointments.” He believes this is exacerbated when patients require more than one specialist treatment.

Considering the reason for these appointment delays, Emslie said that the “huge erosion of morale” within the NHS after the pandemic has driven a significant proportion of staff to look for employment elsewhere. This has led to a “notable increase” in referrals for occupational health services with patients presenting more complex, long-term issues - especially cancer, heart disease and auto-immune disorders. Consequently, occupational healthcare is becoming “increasingly important to people’s professional lines as concern over what will happen if they fall ill rises.”

Highlighting the “advent of digitalisation” within the sector, Emslie said that this is the “key to making treatment better and more cost-effective for employers so they feel more comfortable investing in occupational health schemes.” Since the occupational health market naturally focuses on working-age adults, providers don’t experience the technology-related issues witnessed during the pandemic when elderly people struggled to access digital services.

Equally, accountability in the boardroom has driven awareness of occupational health with the “strain in the public service translating into the economic and corporate issues.” Emslie said that “corporates and individuals are waking up to the fact that the NHS cannot be relied on to deliver universal care” so people are seeking to deliver pathways through self-funding or through their employer to provide services such as private medical insurance (PMI) or occupational healthcare.

Meanwhile, for the first time, the government has begun to see the positive role occupational health can play, shifting the burden of healthcare onto the shoulders of employers. Emslie said this proves that occupational health will play a more prominent role in our lives moving forward.

Exploring the employer perspective, Kellie Wade, benefits and wellbeing officer (Europe)  at Sidley Austin, said there has been a “definitive shift” in the health of the nation’s workforce since the pandemic. She believes this is “changing the face of how employers administer healthcare schemes” and that there is a “growing desire between employers to ensure that their colleagues don’t struggle silently.” For example, she’s seen a “huge demand” for mental health first aid sessions encouraging leaders to provide information and raise awareness.

This proactivity has created an ‘open-door’ policy when it comes to junior staff coming forward for support. “The C-suite is sending the message that whatever the issue, whatever role the employee performs, businesses have a positive role to play in helping that person improve their health,” Wade explained.

Since the pandemic, mental health has become one of the most pressing issues faced by corporates up and down the country. Clare Price, director of clinical services at Onebright, believes that “people are more anxious coming out of the pandemic, with a multi-generational workforce that includes those in the ‘sandwich generation’ having to juggle work with childcare and caring for elderly relatives.”

Identifying key factors, Wade commented on the “huge NHS backlog.” She felt that companies now know that if an employee goes through the public health system, they’re often looking at 2-5 year delay before treatment. This can mean years of lower productivity, absenteeism, and potential exit from the labour market while the employee’s health continues to deteriorate.

In a recent study, Onebright found that those who decided not to utilise their employer’s health initiatives were still on the waiting list to receive a diagnosis by the time their colleagues were finishing their treatment pathways. “With employers prioritising mental health as a key determinant of productivity and growth, it is clear that the issue remains not just a matter of health but a fundamental business critical investment,” she explained.

Discussing the private healthcare provider perspective, Dr Niaz Khan, chief clinical officer at HCA Primary Care, said that “post-pandemic, employers and their workers are looking at health screenings to circumnavigate the issues in the NHS and protect their health.” As such, he believes that private healthcare has a major role to play in supplying healthcare services given the “vast and growing demand for quick and affordable appointments, diagnoses, and treatment.”

Constant delays have encouraged employees to look at employer-funded health screenings as a means of replacing the role that their GP traditionally played in maintaining their health,” Khan explained. Likewise, there is a “far greater sense of tangibility and measurability of successful outcomes through very talented tests.” This has led to corporations that weren’t previously interested in offering health screenings to their employees to reconsider.  

Jon Burke and Sarah Taylor, chief medical officer and head of socialist and practitioner relations at AXA Health, argue that “this demand for private health services goes beyond traditional insured admissions.” They believe it has also led to a significant increase in people looking to pay for certain treatments, which can be seen through the uplift in self-pay volumes, particularly from people who accumulated savings during the pandemic.

Furthermore, both Burke and Taylor agreed that social media is having a growing impact on the demand for private services, promoting documentaries and well-publicised instances of health conditions among celebrities as a driving force for patients asking for specific diagnoses and treatment. As such, increased use of digital GP services means that treatments which traditionally would have been delivered in a primary care setting are often being referred onwards for further tests.

Discussing how insurers have responded to growing employer demand for PMI, Paul Moulton, SME and corporate distribution director at AXA Health, explained that organisations have begun to invest in a “modular approach” to health benefits to improve accessibility while retaining a “sensible balance between value and cost.” Consequently, alongside the popularity of medical insurance, other health services are becoming more and more important when employees look at potential career changes.

Exploring how data and intelligence can support employers in group risk, Dan Crook, sales director at Canada Life, expressed concern for the “significant increases in absence due to mental health” as well as the large proportion of life claims paid within the market because of cancer, heart conditions and strokes. Crook believes that if mortality in these particular areas worsens, it could impact future pricing which employers “may do well to consider when working through their longer-term budgeting processes.”

Digital support services could help facilitate faster access to health and wellbeing services, keeping employees fit, healthy and at work. Cr0ok explained that the challenge for the market is to “ensure the support services continue to remain relevant and provide long-term value to employees and employers alike.”

More like this
Latest from Financial Reporter
Latest from Property Reporter
to our newsletter

Join a community of over 30,000 intermediaries and keep up-to-date with industry news and upcoming events via our newsletter.