Employee ill health and sickness absence is a major drain on the UK’s productivity, with the annual cost of workplace illness estimated to be £8.2billion according to the latest Health and Safety Executive Statistics Report. But, here at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, we are convinced that physiotherapists can help bring down the number of days taken off work.
In a Department for Work and Pensions report published last week (7 May), 98% of GPs agree that remaining in work is generally beneficial for people’s health and the overwhelming majority (95%) also believe worklessness is detrimental to health. Despite this, three quarters of GPs admit to issuing patients with fit notes (formerly sick notes) – even where there is a lack of medical evidence indicating that they should have time off work.
Part of the problem stems from the fact 89% of GPs also say they have not received training in health and work in the last 12 months, while only 18% have a good awareness of local services to which they can refer patients. Yet we know early access to physiotherapy can help prevent or reduce the amount of time off work a person needs following a musculoskeletal disorder, like neck or back pain.
With 131 million working days lost to sickness absence in 2011, according to the Office of National Statistics, the fit note epidemic is something we at the CSP feel needs tackling. To help physiotherapists play their part, the CSP has collaborated with the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists and the College of Occupational Therapists to develop a new tool – the Allied Health Professional’s Advisory Fitness for Work Report.
While employees will still require a Statement of Fitness for Work from a doctor to claim sick pay, the new AHP Advisory Fitness for Work Report provides an opportunity for physiotherapists to assist GPs and employers. It identifies the specific work issues a patient has as a result of their health condition, and the adjustments needed to help them to return and remain in work. For example, something as simple as letting an employee with back pain carry lighter loads until they are better can help them get back to work instead of being signed off sick.
Employers can also do a significant amount to improve the health of their workers and thereby prevent sickness absence occurring in the first place by:
• Creating a work culture where staff feel they can report stress or ill health
• Providing fast access to a physiotherapist when staff suffer from a musculoskeletal disorder – the second biggest cause of sickness absence
• Encouraging staff to develop good work habits, such as taking regular breaks and building some physical activity into their day. This can help to prevent staff becoming overly stressed – the biggest cause of sickness absence
• Ensuring staff receive appropriate work station assessments and advice on carrying out their job safely
• Providing flexible working where this is possible
In order to drive the message home to employers, their staff and healthcare professionals, the CSP has organised Workout at Work Day on 12 June. This is an annual awareness raising campaign, which aims to help both employers and staff develop healthier work habits so that sickness absence can be avoided or reduced, helping people to remain fit for work. This year, the focus will be on the need to improve workplace health in order to prepare for the demands of a longer working life.
We have produced a free leaflet, Under Pressure, looking at the link between physical activity and mental wellbeing, as well as leaflets with advice for workers in sedentary jobs, Fit for Work, and more active roles, Fit for Active Work. Stay happy and healthy at work by taking up these simple tips. Following the advice in these leaflets would significantly reduce the number of days of sickness absence and cut the cost to the UK economy – as well as improve the quality of life for anyone choosing to use them.
By Sue Browning, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy