Christine Husbands: Rehabilitation support is important but there should be equal focus on prevention

Christine Husbands, Commercial Director at RedArc, discusses the importance of recognising Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a short-term measure and improving access to preventative wellbeing support in the workplace.

Related topics:  RedArc,  Vocational Rehabilitation
Christine Husbands | Commercial Director, RedArc
15th March 2024
"Managers should be trained and supported not only in communicating with employees during long-term absence, but also in spotting early warning signs of ill-health."
- Christine Husbands, Commercial Director at RedArc

The majority of employees we speak to are keen to return to work. But to do so, they require a wide range of support before they can be considered physically and mentally fit to work.

The impact of absence in the workplace has grown to its highest point in the last ten years, according to the CIPD Simplyhealth 2023 report. On average, employees lost 7.8 days due to ill-health or injury last year; this costs employers over £1k per person annually. Mental health, musculoskeletal, acute conditions, and stress were the most common causes for long-term absence.

While employees often benefit from Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), this is a short-term measure, leaving those battling long-term conditions exposed to financial crisis.

There are several factors that can prevent employees from maintaining or returning to employment. Firstly, there’s an acute lack of preventative wellbeing support in the workplace. This includes access to GP appointments, physiotherapy, and talking therapies. This means employees often neglect symptoms until they’ve unable to work. In the same vein, NHS waiting lists (particularly for mental health and orthopaedic conditions) continue to worsen absenteeism.

According to the latest NHS statistics, 1.89mn people had an open referral to any secondary mental health service in January 2024 compared to 1.41mn in March 2021 – this is a 480k rise in less than three years. Likewise, the number of people either occupying a bed in a mental health hospital or having a bed open for them as part of an ongoing period of leave has increased by 1k since March 2021.

READ MORE: NHS reveals 480k rise in referrals for secondary mental health services in less than three years

Environment, culture, and working patterns can have a big impact on an individual’s ability to return to the workplace – especially for employees with disabilities. People often don’t know what rights they have as an employee such as the provisions of the Equality and Disability Discrimination Acts.

It's crucial that a holistic, clinically based approach is prioritised, enabling employees to make a sustainable recovery as quickly as possible. Examples of what we’ve found effective include: dedicated clinical support, holistic support, navigating support, therapies, and post-return support. For some, this will reduce or avoid workplace absence but for those struggling with long-term conditions, personalised support (with a single point of contact, such as a dedicated nurse) is essential.

Managers should be trained and supported not only in communicating with employees during long-term absence, but also in spotting early warning signs of ill health and signposting accordingly.

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