As The Work Foundation’s research has demonstrated, the health of the working age population across the EU is likely to represent a major economic and social burden over the next 20-30 years. In a context in which chronic conditions are imposing an increasingly significant burden on our healthcare systems, and where only 3 per cent of EU health spending is allocated to prevention, new approaches throughout the continuum of care (from early prevention to recovery) are urgently required.
Last week The Work Foundation, through our Fit for Work initiative, hosted a major conference to showcase innovative approaches from across the EU to maximising ‘workability’ among people with chronic illness. The conference – Healthcare Solutions to Improve Workability – was endorsed by the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and Riga Stradins University and we were delighted to welcome Dr Guntis Belēvičs, Minister of Health and Mr Uldis Augulis, Minister of Welfare who opened the event.
We heard contributions from Poland, Spain, Latvia, Germany and Austria, together with presentations from both the OECD and WHO Europe.
In addition, at a meeting of national representatives of Fit for Work Coalitions from across Europe, we had presentations from The Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Czech Republic, Belgium and the USA. We also launched a new paper looking at the economic benefits of early healthcare interventions which help people with MSDs to stay in work. This paper shows that early, work-focused interventions can reduce sick leave and lost work productivity among workers with MSDs by more than 50 per cent, reduce healthcare costs by up to two-thirds, reduce disability benefits costs by up to 80 per cent, reduce the risk of permanent work disability and job loss by up to 50 percent, reduce the risk of developing a co-morbid mental illness and deliver societal benefits by supporting people with work-limiting chronic conditions to optimise their functional capacity and maintain economic independence.
The debate in Latvia focused very much on the practical steps we need to take to convince policymakers, clinicians and employers to re-double their efforts to prioritise early return to work for people with chronic health problems through earlier intervention and through vocational rehabilitation support.
The government, the NHS, and employers are failing to provide the necessary support for people with chronic MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders)* to stay in work. This is according to a new report released today (Friday 5th September) by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation and the Fit for Work UK Coalition. The findings also indicate that some patients are putting their health at risk to hold on to their jobs.
Update: Commenting on the report, Sue Browning, deputy chief executive of the CSP, said: “Physiotherapists are experts at keeping people healthy in work, or facilitating a return after sickness absence, and it is very important that employers provide staff with fast access to occupational health services (…) The NHS should also make self-referral to physiotherapy available across the country”. Read the full statement of Sue Browning on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website.
Professor Stephen Bevan, director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and founding president of Fit for Work UK, said: “Workers with MSDs often find themselves fighting a lonely battle to remain in work. The government, employers and clinicians should make it a priority to support them to remain in employment after diagnosis”.
Currently, Britain is losing 30.5 million working days a year to MSDs, which are the leading cause of sickness absence, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)**. Today’s paper shows that employers, in particular small organisations, have little knowledge about government schemes such as “Access to Work” and are insufficiently prepared to manage chronic conditions in the workplace. Many workers admit to being reluctant to ask for help from their line managers for fear of stigma, negative judgement and job loss. Others said they had to involve their union to get the necessary support or move into self-employment.
The interviews conducted for the report released today highlight that, unless action is taken, individuals’ health conditions and quality of life will continue to be damaged by work, with some leaving the labour market prematurely. The consequence of the status quo is an increase in productivity loss, sickness absence and, ultimately, the welfare bill.
One employee interviewed in the report said: “Last year, the team were very understaffed some individuals went off sick. I think the pressure to try and do other people’s jobs as well as your own just got too much for me. It was a very stressful time to me and that made my illness a lot worse”. Another explained: “It’s a bit rule by fear in this department these days. They’ll try and get rid of you if you’ve been off too long with your health”.
Kate Summers, research officer at The Work Foundation, commented: “Individuals with chronic MSDs will go to great lengths to remain in work. They will give up aspects of their family and social life, and they will even take roles below their skill set. This is because work can bring many benefits – be they financial, psychological or social. These benefits are undermined if individuals are working in a environment that is not good for their health”.
The report makes four recommendations: 1. The government should increase participation to initiatives like “Access to Work” and should provide extra assistance for employees working in small and medium enterprises; 2. The government should also ensure that work is viewed as a “clinical outcome” by clinicians and invest in more “specialist nurse” roles; 3. Employers should consider all necessary workplace adjustments and offer career development opportunities for people with chronic MSDs; 4. Clinicians should view it as part of their role to ask patients about their work lives.
The authors of the paper also added that they welcome the government’s new Health and Work Service in England and Wales, but that it needs to focus on sustained return to work outcomes.
On 1st January 2015 the Latvian Government assumes the Presidency of the EU Council. It does so at a crucial time, with economic recovery painfully slow and unevenly distributed among EU Member States, and with jobs (especially for the young) and productivity all high on the agenda. In addition, the new Commission will still be very new and only just beginning to establish its core priorities. This places the Latvian Presidency in a potentially very interesting position and, last week, I spent two days in the beautiful capital city of Riga meeting members of our Latvian Fit for Work Coalition and Health Ministers in the Latvian Health Ministry to discuss ways in which Fit for Work Europe can play an active part in shaping the priorities and content of the Latvian Presidency.
Daiga Behmane – Project Lead, Fit for Work Latvia
My visit was hosted by Daiga Behmane, Project Leader of the Latvian Fit for Work Coalition, President of the Latvian Association of Health Economics and lecturer at Riga Stradins University. Daiga brings considerable experience and insight to the work of the Coalition and is well-placed to bring the Fit for Work messages alive to stakeholder in Latvia about early intervention, the need to prioritise health as a clinical outcome and the need to regard health spending which leads to improved workability as an investment rather than a cost. These were some of the messages which Daiga and I took to the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Health, Egita Pole, and some of her senior officials. We discussed whether some of these principles might be reflected in the priorities of the Latvian Presidency as well as our plans to run a high level event on chronic conditions and work – featuring MSDs – as part of the Presidency programme.
In other meetings I enjoyed an excellent discussion with Prof Daina Andersone of Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital, a very eminent Latvian rheumatologist who has strong views about the need to treat young people with inflammatory MSDs as early as possible to help them manage their conditions and successfully move from education to employment. I also met with Dr Jelena Reste. Jelena is an Occupational Physician at Riga Stradins University and a member of the Latvian FfW Coalition. She has been conducting research on MSDs in Latvia and has access to some useful data and research on the prevalence of MSDs in Latvia’s working age population. She and her colleagues have been doing some excellent research on workplace interventions as well as a project on the cost-effectiveness of self-management initiatives.
The challenge for Latvia is that state spending on healthcare has recently fallen below 3 per cent of GDP – a low figure compared with many other countries. This makes it more difficult to make persuasive arguments that investing in workforce health in the short-term will bring wider economic and social benefits in the medium-term. Despite this, the Fit for Work Coalition in Latvia is well-positioned and well-respected and we hope that the weight of evidence and good examples from both within and outside Latvia will help show that prevention – especially in the case of workforce health – is better than cure. For more details on our recommendations for the health and work officials in Latvia you might want to take a look at our evidence-based report.
Response from The Work Foundation and the Fit for Work Europe Coalition
The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, is an applied research and policy think tank which specialises on the health of the working age population. The Fit for Work Europe Coalition has, since 2009, been conducting research on the impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the health and productivity of workers across all EU Member States.
In response to the Strategic Framework, Prof Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and Founding President of Fit for Work Europe, said:
1. We welcome the strategic framework as it recognises that workplace health and safety are critical areas to sustained economic recovery, especially as the workforce ages and as increasing labour productivity becomes a strategic priority.
2. We are concerned that the strategic framework places little emphasis on a number of workforce health issues which have a significant impact both on workers and on the businesses where they work. For example, it is clear from our own research that EU workforce health and safety cannot merely focus on the workplace causes of ill-health among workers. Pre-existing conditions which are exacerbated by work, or co-morbid health conditions where non-work factors are important and lead to workplace consequences (i.e. lost productivity, presenteeism) must also be given priority, as should the wider psychological climate of workplaces.
3. We are increasingly convinced that joined-up efforts to promote workforce health are required. We feel that the strategic framework should reflect the need for cross-silo investment in workforce health across government at national level and at EC level. We are concerned that, with austerity policies, there has been a more narrow focus on initiatives which are low cost, low risk and which do not prioritise early intervention or prevention. In addition, EU-OSH should be focusing more on coordinating efforts in national health systems to prioritise work as a clinical outcome of treatment among people of working age. Unless the expertise of OH professionals is included more prominently in the way workers with health condition receive access to health treatments which support job retention and return to work, our experience tells us that ‘work ability’ will not be given sufficient priority.
4. The strategic framework should also focus on providing more practical support for employers to make workplace adaptations & to focus on job retention among employees with long-term or chronic conditions. Dissemination of national examples of early interventions which deliver good workplace, clinical and economic results Highlighting case studies of cross-agency working at national level where employers, health systems and welfare interventions combine to promote job retention and return to work for more workers whose jobs are at risk. We would like to see existing legislation on workplace accommodations for people with MSDS, for example, focus on early intervention, and recognise the effect on work ability of pre-existing and comorbid conditions which are not caused directly by work, Specific support for small and medium-sized enterprises should also be targeted.
5. We were very disappointed that the proposed MSD Directive was abandoned after several years of development work. MSDs are the leading cause of sickness absence in Europe, accounting for half of all absences and 60% of permanent work incapacity. In addition, MSDs cost up to 2% of EU GDP, i.e. around €240bn in costs to the continent each year. Our experience is that, in matters of workforce health and safety – requiring a strategic approach – social dialogue can undermine bold, visionary and forward-looking initiatives as a result of narrow, sectional positions being taken. While seeking consensus is to be encouraged, we are concerned that measures to mitigate the negative impact of foreseeable long-term, demographic and epidemiologically important health changes in the working age population in the EU will be undermined by the occasional short-term and self-interested nature of some aspects of the social dialogue process. We would like to see the strategic framework reflect this need more explicitly.
– Ends –
Notes to editors
1. Prof Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and Founding President of Fit for Work Europe, is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.
2. The Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices.
3. Fit for Work Europe is a multi-stakeholder Coalition, driving policy and practice change across the work and health agendas in then UK and Europe. We aim to deliver more investment in sustainable healthcare by promoting and implementing early intervention practices. Research shows this approach is the most effective way of ensuring people with MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) can enter and remain in work across the EU and globally. Fit for Work Europe is a project led by The Work Foundation, supported by AbbVie and GE Healthcare.
4. Fit for Work Europe submitted a response to the EU-OSHA consultation on the new EU Occupational Safety and Health Policy Framework (2014-2020), which can be read here.
Prof Stephen Bevan, Founding President of Fit for Work Europe
This week I had the pleasure of attending the first Uppsala Health Summit in the beautiful University City of Uppsala in Sweden. The theme of the conference was ageing and health and I was invited to speak on behalf of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition.
The event, hosted by the University of Uppsala, was first addressed by Mr Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s Minister for Social Security who presented some compelling data about demographics in Sweden. Among other things, he explained that the data on ageing among the Swedish population also masked a significant reduction in inequality in life expectancy. While an inequality gap still exists Sweden has succeeded in reducing some of the negative impact of the main social determinants of ill-health.
Later in the day I presented as part of a panel session on the use of technology, diagnostics and screening to improve health outcomes for older people. My focus was on the need to regard early diagnosis and early intervention for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as an investment rather than a cost, especially if the outcomes had a wider societal value (such as the ability to remain in work). I used the example of narrow policy and financial silos which, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis in the UK, the economic case for NHS investment in early treatment was made very forcibly by the National Audit Office (NAO) back in 2009. Despite this, the NHS has not prioritised early intervention, thereby forgoing the threefold return on investment in labour productivity which the NAO economic model predicted. One participant at the conference likened this example to the annual debate in Sweden about the cost of gritting roads and pavements. Local authorities are under pressure to minimise the cost of gritting, but the health system then has to bear the cost of older Swedes suffering injuries, fractures and trauma from slips and falls on icy surfaces. As the delegate concluded, the evidence that gritting is cost-effective is clear, but politicians choose to pursue short-term savings instead of doing ‘the right thing’.
I argued that the judicious use of diagnostic technologies and medical interventions which can help older workers with chronic conditions to remain active and at work – especially if this was good quality work – would enhance the health of individuals and improve workforce productivity. In addition, I reminded delegates that a high proportion (up to 65%) of working age people with MSDs are the main income earner in their household and that having to leave the labour market prematurely as a result of poor health can have dire financial consequences for individuals and their families. My plea to the conference was to ensure that healthcare decision-makers routinely consider that remaining in work might be a clinically and socially desirable outcome for older patients and that, as we all have to work longer and retire later, this consideration will become a necessity rather than an optional extra.
In many ways, the resolution to this dilemma lies in being clear about both who pays for these interventions and who stands to benefit. As we heard at our Fit for Work Summit in October 2013, it is possible for different parts of the system (eg Health & Social Security) to share both the costs and the benefits of joined-up interventions rather than just opting for the cheapest, short-term option. As one delegate suggested, our politicians have a democratic mandate to make common-sense decisions where spending leads to savings. It is a shame, he reflected, that so few have the political bravery to put these principles into practice – especially as so many stand to benefit.
As the Fit for Work programme extends beyond its western European origins it has been fascinating to explore how different countries manage the consequences of chronic ill-health in their working age populations. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Fit for Work report in Seoul. Like many other Asia-Pacific countries, Korea faces a number or pressing demographic and labour market challenges such as ageing which will have profound economic and social consequences. For the research underpinning the Korean report The Work Foundation partnered with Prof Sunwon Kwon and Prof Jongwook Won who, with colleagues, reviewed the Korean literature and data sources on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and drafted the report.
Prof Bevan speaking at the launch of the Fit for Work Korea
Prof Kwon represents the Graduate School of Business at Sookmyung Women’s University and is an expert in labour relations. Prof Won has a background in occupational medicine and is based at the school of medicine at Yonsei University. The excellent final report was launched at a well-attended seminar hosted in the National Assembly in Seoul, hosted by two eminent members of the Assembly – Congresswoman Jaongae Han (member of the labour Committee) and Congressman Yongik Kim (member of the Health & Welfare Committee).
Core findings from the Fit for Work research in Korea show that:
The proportion of the total number of compensated occupational diseases in Korea accounted for by MSDs increased from 49.6 per cent in 2003 to 76.5 per cent in 2007.
The total cost of work-related MSDs increased from ₩105.3 billion in 2004 to ₩163.3 billion in 2007.
People with MSDs accounted for 69.2% of the total of all occupational diseases in 2010
The most common condition requiring more than one day of absence from work (caused by or exacerbated by work) was MSDs in the upper limbs (31.2%), followed by MSDs in the lower limbs (13.9%) and lumbar spine (6.9%),
MSDs caused directly by working conditions increased from 26.6% of all cases in 2006 to 33.4% of all cases in 2009
According to 2012 National Health Insurance Statistics, 14.87 million people received treatment for MSDs, accounting for 32.5% of total treatment across all conditions.
MSDs are the biggest cause of absence from work in Korea and account for no less than 52% of overall disorders.
The launch of the Fit for Work Coalition in Korea
The ageing labour force in Korea, together with low rates of labour productivity, are key characteristics of the labour market which policy-makers in Seoul are focused on and the Fit for Work research shines a light on the need to prioritise the health and work ability of the Korean workforce as it becomes more susceptible to chronic health problems.
However, I was convinced that opinion-leaders and policy-makers in Korea are increasingly aware of the need to take action and I am confident that the Fit for Work Korea report will make a significant contribution to the debate in the immediate future. I am hopeful that a Korean Fit for Work Coalition will soon be established to ensure that the findings and recommendations of the report influence the debate on workforce health in Korea.
The Fit for Work report on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the labour market in Korea will soon be published on the Fit for Work website.
The Health Minister, Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, called for the implementation of the Early Intervention care model in the Republic of Lithuania at an event organised by the Lithuanian Fit for Work Coalition in the Parliament, on the 17th of March. The Minister’s call to action is a major milestone for the Fit for Work mission, as the pan-European Coalition advocates for EU mobilisation against the burden of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) both at central and member state levels.
Minister Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis calls for Early Intervention
The Fit for Work Coalition in Lithuania has been advocating for quite some time for the implementation of a cost-effective solution to reduce the harmful societal and economic impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to a Fit for Work report analysing the impact of MSDs to the labour market in Lithuania, which is part of a pan-European study conducted by the Coalition through The Work Foundation, MSDs account for about half of all occupational conditions in the country. Fit for Work also found that more than half of those with serious forms of MSDs, such as rheumatoid arthritis, were more likely to become disable than the general EU population living with the same condition, costing the economy around €101 million a year.
On the 17th of March, at the “Musculoskeletal diseases and workability” conference, the fifth event organised by the Fit for Work Coalition at the Lithuanian Parliament and chaired by the Health Care Committee and the Lithuanian Rheumatologists Society, the Minister himself called for setting up an “Early Intervention” pilot., The audience, consisting of members of the government, directors of health organisations and experts from various governmental institutions, heard from the Minister Andriukaitis that the innovative care model can significantly reduce both the sickness absence and the permanent job loss attributed to MSDs, promoting a greater participation to the labour market and, thus, saving costs to the Lithuanian economy on the longer term.
The Musculoskeletal Diseases and Workability conference at the Lithuanian Parliament
Minister Andriukaitis’s demonstration was backed by Professor Irena Butrimiene from the University of Vilnius. Prof Butrimiene presented some operational scenarios for the set-up of the Early Intervention pilot. These are going to be discussed with experts from the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks.
The Early Intervention model was founded by Dr Juan Jover, Head of Rheumatology at hospital clinico San Carlos in Madrid, Spain. The programme ran for two year and assessed 3,300 workers with MSDs, resulting in a reduction by 39% of the sickness absence and by 50% of the permanent work disability related to MSDs. The cost-benefit analysis also revealed that there was recouped around €11 for each €1 invested in the pilot. Since then, 25 new Early Intervention programmes have open across Spain, retrieving similar results. With support from the Fit for Work Europe Coalition, EU countries such as the UK, Portugal and Latvia are now testing the programme, too.
Early Intervention consists of a rapid diagnosis and assessment, expert clinical management, restraint from bed rest, early mobilization, stretching exercises, ergonomic training, recommendations for physical activity, self-management and support for remaining in, or returning to work. The approach reduces the time of diagnosis, treatment and recovery improving patient outcomes and labour market participation, as well as savings to the health care and welfare systems.
Minister Andriukaitis expressed his interest in Early Intervention at the Fit for Work Europe 2013 Summit in Brussels, where he had delivered a keynote presentation on behalf of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council
The “Musculoskeletal diseases and workability” conference organised by the Lithuanian Fit for Work Coalition has also been covered by some local media outlets, such as Delfi.lt and Lzinios.lt.
The tentative and delicate green shoots of economic recovery are just about visible across some EU Member States. But a major driver of sustainable economic growth and recovery across the EU will be the speed with which these Member States can mobilise and deploy highly skilled, resilient and healthy workforces and rely on them to help deliver productivity growth and increased competitiveness. One challenge is that ageing workforces across the EU are also more likely to be constrained by a growing burden of chronic conditions which threatens work ability, productivity, social inclusion and labour market participation. Chief among these chronic conditions are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)… continue reading on the Hanover Blog
After trying to get answers for about twelve years and losing my job over a diagnosis that.. (does not exist).. I found a way.
Watch the full story from Ann Christin on fighting her condition and work disability:
Purification Tejeda, a patient suffering from extreme pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, described how she benefitted from the support of an early intervention clinic: “I was so scared about the impact it would have on my personal working life. I was given the right diagnosis, treatment and care very quickly and this helped to take away my unbearable pain. Thanks to this clinic, I can go back to work again. Work is so important to me. It makes me feel useful and responsible. I feel alive again.”
Watch Purificación Tejeda’s full story on fighting her condition and work disability:
An extra one million employees could be at work each day if early interventions were more widely accessible for people with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as back pain. This is according to a new report from the Fit for Work Europe Coalition, written by The Work Foundation and published today (16 October) at a summit in the European Parliament, Brussels, endorsed by the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council.
With many EU member states on track to see 50% of their population diagnosed with an MSD by 2030, the report warns that early treatment for MSDs must be prioritised in order to tackle this growing problem. But it also shows how permanent work disability could fall by 50% if a tried and tested model were to be followed across different countries.
The leading cause of sickness absence across the EU, 44 million workers now have MSDs – including back pain and strains of the neck, shoulder and arms. This costs up to €240bn annually in lost productivity and sickness absence, representing up to 2% of GDP across the EU. The report calls on EU member states to coordinate action between government departments, employers and clinicians to tackle this problem and save billions while transforming the lives of those affected by such devastating conditions.
“As our analysis shows, access to early healthcare interventions for workers with MSDs are not being prioritised,” said Professor Stephen Bevan, Founding President of the Coalition – a group representing physicians, patient organisations, economists and researchers promoting policies to improve workforce health. “Thousands are taking unnecessarily long periods away from work or even leaving work permanently when tried and tested tactics could be helping to speed up their recovery and return to work,” he added.
Using data from a two-year trial of a successful early intervention clinic for people with MSDs in Madrid, Spain, the Fit for Work Europe Coalition has developed estimates of the effect of repeating its results across 12 EU member states where comparable data exists.
By assessing and treating 13,000 workers with MSDs after five days of sickness, the Madrid clinic succeeded in reducing temporary work absence by 39% and permanent work disability by 50%. The report explores the implications of these findings on 12 EU member states and estimates how they would affect all 28 EU member states.
Professor Steve Bevan, who is also a director at The Work Foundation continued, “If these results were repeated across the whole of the EU, we estimate that up to one million workers would be available to work each day. This would be a considerable boost to productivity and significantly reduce sick pay bills at a time when member states are under pressure to make savings and increase economic growth. Even if the reduction in absence achieved were 25% rather than 39%, we estimate that in excess of 640,000 extra workers would be available for work each day.”
The analysis, led by Professor Juan Jover, shows that if the Madrid results were repeated across Spain, where 26m working days are lost to MSDs each year, over 46,000 Spanish workers would be available for work each day instead of on sick leave. As the table below indicates, the numbers for 11 other EU member states are equally striking. For example, in Germany, the 217 million working days lost each year to MSDs could be reduced by around 480,000 (39%) if the Madrid clinic results were replicated – or by over 300,000 (if a more conservative estimate of 25% were achieved).
Purification Tejeda, a patient suffering from extreme pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, described how she benefited from the support of an early intervention clinic: “I was so scared about the impact it would have on my personal working life. I was given the right diagnosis, treatment and care very quickly and this helped to take away my unbearable pain. Thanks to this clinic, I can go back to work again. Work is so important to me. It makes me feel useful and responsible. I feel alive again.”
The full findings of the research is being presented at a summit hosted by the Fit for Work Europe Coalition taking place at the European Parliament today (16 October). It will be attended by the Lithuanian Minister for Health of the EU and international delegates from welfare and health government departments, businesses and healthcare organisations.
Table showing data from12 member states (70% of the EU workforce)
As the way patients are referred to early intervention services varies considerably between countries, this data is based on a more cautious estimate scenario of 25% instead of the 39% improvement rate achieved in the Madrid clinic. Nonetheless, the number of lost working days avoided even in this conservative estimate would still be substantial and show the significant impact that wider access to early intervention could have across the EU.
Days lost to MSDs each year
Number available to work if Madrid results replicated
Number available to work with just a 25% reduction
Notes to editors
An infographic (attached) is being launched at the 5th Fit for work Europe Summit, Investing in Healthcare: Breaking down the silos in the European Parliament, Brussels on 16 October 2013. This will be available from 14.00hrs CET on 16 October 2013 or from The Work Foundation media team in advance.
Professor Stephen Bevan, Founding President of Fit for Work Europe and a director at The Work Foundation along with Fit for Work Co-presidents, Antonyia Parvanova MEP, Dame Carol Black and Professor Paul Emery are available for interviews, comments and briefings.
Fit for Work Europe is a multi-stakeholder Coalition, driving policy and practice change across the work and health agendas. We aim to deliver more investment in sustainable healthcare by promoting and implementing early intervention practices. Research shows this approach is the most effective way of ensuring people with MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) can enter and remain in work across the EU and globally.
Fit for Work Europe is a project led by The Work Foundation, supported by AbbVie and GE Healthcare. For more information, please visit, www.fitforworkeurope.eu
The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future, influencing policy and practice for the benefit of society. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.
AbbVie is a global, research-based biopharmaceutical company formed in 2013 following separation from Abbott. The company’s mission is to use its expertise, dedicated people and unique approach to innovation to develop and market advanced therapies that address some of the world’s most complex and serious diseases. In 2013, AbbVie employs approximately 21,000 people worldwide and markets medicines in more than 170 countries. For further information on the company and its people, portfolio and commitments, please visit www.abbvie.co.uk.
GE Healthcare provides transformational medical technologies and services to meet the demand for increased access, enhanced quality and more affordable healthcare around the world. GE (traded as NYSE: GE) works on things that matter – great people and technologies taking on tough challenges. From medical imaging, software & IT, patient monitoring and diagnostics to drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies and performance improvement solutions, GE Healthcare helps medical professionals deliver great healthcare to their patients. Please visit www3.gehealthcare.com.
The increasing life expectancy in Europe can be considered an achievement, reflecting the improving quality of life. However, this development also constitutes a challenge both to the governments and individuals. While the ageing population is regarded as a burden over the state finances, individual aspects of the ageing population remains largely unspoken. Recognizing the fact that the longer life expectancy does not necessarily mean a healthier life cycle, then it is crucial to stress on healthy ageing as a continuous process across the lifecycle.
The influence of Fit for Work research now extends far beyond Europe with our study of MSDs in Australia being published on 13th May at the annual conference of the Australian Rheumatology Association in Canberra. Despite having been hit less severely by the economic crisis, the Australian labour market is still being affected and it is timely to take a look at the effect of musculoskeletal conditions on the workforce.
Our research showed that:
– Almost 2.2 million (14.7 per cent) of working age Australians report a disability and almost a quarter of them experience
profound or severe core activity limitations. It is estimated that people with chronic conditions in Australia are 60 per cent less likely to participate in the labour market.
– Work-related injuries and diseases cost the Australian economy $57.5 billion in 2005-2006, representing 5.9 per cent of GDP. At least 43 per cent of all work-related injury/disease compensation claims resulted from cases of MSDs
– Up to 31.9 per cent of Disability Support Pension claims result from musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders
– It is estimated that MSDs cost the Australian health care system almost $4.6 billion a year.
– Back pain, back problems and disc disorders are very common complaints in Australia, affecting nearly 2.8 million people, or 14 per cent of the Australian population.
– Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the second most prevalent form of arthritis in Australia, affecting at least 2 per cent of the population and accounting for 4 per cent of the total expenditure on MSDs. Only 31 per cent of those with RA are in full-time employment, compared to 53 per cent of the general population in Australia
As with our research in many other countries, we found that earlier diagnosis and intervention could help more Australian workers with MSDs to remain in our return to work and that work participation and productivity – as well as quality of life – could be improved through more ‘joined-up’ effort between Government, healthcare professionals and employers. We are hopeful that policy-makers and opinion-leaders across Australia will heed our messages and redouble their efforts to prioritise work as a clinical outcome for workers with MSDs.
Work is good for your health. Whilst this is now widely documented and accepted, it is not a concept that most workers appreciate until they are unfortunate enough to experience a period of absence from the work environment due to a musculoskeletal disease (MSD).
Sadly, in Ireland as well as mainland Europe too, a significant number of workers will face this experience. In Ireland, MSD’s are the single biggest contributor to workplace absenteeism accounting for over 7m lost days per annum and a staggering cost to the exchequer of over €750m, not to mention the lost productivity and socio-economic impact on the family. Most people want to work and these days most people need to work. Yet most are not prepared to ensure a speedy return, and sadly their employers are not equipped to facilitate their prompt and healthy return to work.
FfW Europe Co-President, Stephen Bevan, and independent health economist, Leela Barham, discuss pros and cons of taking a wider societal perspective in healthcare decision-making, and possible reasons why work and labour market participation are rarely included in the remit of Health Technology Assessment.
Steve Bevan, Founding President, Fit for Work Europe Coalition, publishes new briefing paper – ‘Fit for Work? Maximising Employment and Social Inclusion in the EU.’ The paper examines the case of workers with MSDs.
This week I was in Bucharest to launch the Romanian ‘Fit for Work’ report. The setting for the launch was the incredible Parliamentary Palace, second only to the Pentagon in size. It dominates the south-western part of the city and many houses, churches and a football stadium were demolished to make way for it and surrounding government buildings. (more…)
On 21 April Fit for Work Europe, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and the Hungarian Association of Rheumatologists (HAR) came together under the Hungarian Presidency of the EU and Hungarian Ministry of National Resources to hold an EU High-Level Conference the Burden of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs): Challenges in Work Capacity and Prevention of Disability in the EU. Representatives from 25 countries and over 50 organisations across Europe came together to discuss the impact of RMDs on the European workforce and how stakeholders work together to address the issue. (more…)
This week, the Fit for Work Europe Coalition is hosting an EU Presidency Conference together with The Hungarian Association of Rheumatologists (MRE), The Ministry of National Resources (Government of Hungary) and The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). The Conference will centre on the impact of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) at EU and national level, as well as ensuring the EU’s Disability Strategy gives due focus to RMDs in the workplace across the EU.
You can download the agenda below for the programme: “Burden of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases: Challenges in Work Capacity and Prevention of Disability in the EU”.
Maarten de Wit, Member of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition Steering Group, presented at the European Platform for Patients’ Organisations, Science and Industry workshop on Chronic Conditions on 10 December 2010. See his presentation below:
I had the privilege yesterday to participate in the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases session in Brussels.
I found the meeting very dynamic and positive and I noticed that our efforts both in EULAR, the EUMUSC.NET and in Fit for Work Europe are well recognised both by the MEPs and the representatives for Commissioner John Dalli.
I attended a roundtable conference in Budapest on Tuesday, 30 November to launch the Fit for Work Hungary report. The room was full of stakeholders ranging from patient representatives to government officials. The discussion centred on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), workability and employment. We also heard from researchers interested in vitamin D deficiency focusing on primary prevention activities.
The roundtable was chaired by Dr. Arpád Gógl and Prof. Dr. Gyula Poór. They guided the discussion and ensured everyone had a chance to share their views. Dr. János Áder, MEP, and Dr.Miklós Szócska, the Health and Social Affairs State Secretary, welcomed the group and were pleased to support the discussion. We heard presentations from Dr. László Hodinka about the link between MSDs and workability and Prof. Dr. Péter Lakatos about vitamin D deficiency. Then, I presented the Fit for Work findings and recommendations for Hungary. We discussed the limitations of the Hungarian data and the recommendations to improve data collection in this area. Dr. Márta Péntek also highlighted the importance of gathering comparative data from countries with similar health and welfare systems.
The roundtable was an important step in working to address the impact of MSDs in Hungary. I look forward to future meetings and initiatives to continue the discussion during the coming year.
Sunday (10 October 2010) was World Mental Health Day, and the theme is: ‘Mental Health and Chronic Physical Illnesses: The Need for Continued and Integrated Care.’ Along these lines, our new report, Body and Soul, examines the relationship between mental and physical health, including musculoskeletal disorders, and the impact of these conditions on productivity and work participation.
Having both a physical and mental health condition is common, and the prevalence of mental health conditions is higher among those with a chronic physical health conditions, and vice versa. The relationship between mental and physical health conditions is bi-directional – meaning the physical health impacts mental health and mental health impacts physical health. Often, when individuals have both mental and physical health conditions, their health and work outcomes are worse. For example, around 25% of people with arthritis report a co-morbid mental health condition, which can increase psychological barriers to functioning and the number of days out of role.
In addition to examining the relationship between mental and physical health conditions, Body and Soul explores interventions that seek to reduce the impact these conditions have on individuals and society. This year’s World Mental Health Day calls for continued and integrated care, which Body and Soul also recommends. More effort needs to be directed to integrating care for physical and mental health.
The report also provides recommendations for employers. We know that work, particularly good work, is good for health and can aid in recovery. Therefore, providing good quality jobs that offer flexibility, autonomy and control, can mitigate the effects of health conditions – mental and physical – on individuals, employers and society. Work provides a sense of normalcy, which is illustrated by the following quote highlighted in the report:
‘I felt that one thing that would really help was if I could keep on doing the stuff I did before as much as possible so my life wouldn’t be limited by the condition.’
Our report calls for stakeholders to improve recognition between physical and mental health and to identify, design and provide effective interventions that address both physical and mental health in the health care setting, as well as the workplace setting. In the coming years, the prevalence of mental and chronic physical health conditions is set to increase, which means that employers and health professionals will have to do more to reduce the impact of these conditions on the working age population. Already in the UK, one in six working-age individuals have a common mental health condition, and the costs of mental health conditions in England exceed £105 billion. Mental health and associated co-morbid physical health conditions remain an important issue for individuals, families, colleagues, line managers, health professionals and policy makers.
Tomorrow – for the second time – we will gather here in Brussels for the annual Fit for Work conference. I am delighted to be invited to co-host the conference this year, and will be joined by my fellow colleagues from the European Commission, the Council and partners from NGOs and the private sector.
I am an advocate for evolving societal and governmental thinking to develop effective European policies on public health, backed by evidence-based research. Fit for Work is a prime example for this! I am delighted to see the increased number of advocates for this innovative initiative, and hope many of you will join us in a few days. (more…)
This week, on 30 September, I look forward to participating in a unique meeting in Brussels. Gathered in one room will be leading politicians, patient groups and health professionals from across the EU. They are coming together to launch a unique coalition to call upon European and national policy makers to develop national plans for improving the working lives of those living with MSDs.
The annual Fit For Work Europe conference and the launch of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition promises to be an milestone development in the prioritisation of MSDs, with, we hope, implications and outcomes extending far beyond the Brussels arena, into national policymaking across the continent.
I am particularly delighted to be part of this Coalition, coming to it with the experience of our UK pilot of the national ‘Fit Note’ programme.
Creation of the Fit Note scheme in the UK, designed to help people to stay in or return to work more quickly whatever their illness, was, we believe, an innovative measure to help reduce the staggering cost of £100bn imposed on our economy by ill health – and MSDs are the second leading cause of missed work after mental health.
I am aware that my European colleagues across the EU face similar challenges and economic pressures, and I am looking forward to sharing our experiences with them at the Summit.
In the current economic climate, the challenges to health and work budgets , stretched by the growing number of people who stay out of work due to health problems represent a significant threat for national economies.
The annual Fit for Work conference will create an ideal opportunity to come together to formulate real, practical solutions to help national health systems drive changes in the policies and mobilise governments to take action. Specifically: to make more Europeans, Fit for Work.
We continue to take the ‘Fit for Work’ messages to National Governments wherever we can. Already, since the launch of the Irish report, we have briefed two prominent Irish Government Ministers. We have, among other things, called for a National Clinical Director for MSDs together with the formulation of a National Service Framework on MSDs in order to cement the clinical and labour market priority which Ireland should be given to MSDs in Ireland.
Last week I was a ‘witness’ – together with John Church, CEO of Arthritis Ireland – at a session of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the Irish Parliament – the rough equivalent of a Select Committee here in the UK. I presented the Irish ‘Fit for Work’ report and John and I were questioned for an hour by several Deputies and Senators, who were very interested in the implications of our research for Irish labour market policy.
Earlier in the day Jim Higgins MEP hosted a lunch session in conjunction with Arthritis Ireland for TDs and other opinion-leaders which also focused on the findings and implications of the Irish ‘Fit for Work’ report. Chaired by John Church, the audience heard presentations from Mr Higgins who focused on the growing awareness of the MSD issue in Brussels and Geraldine McCarthy, and eminent Rheumatologist. I also presented the main Fit for Work report findings and talked the audience through our main recommendations. A good debate followed which, among other things, covered the wider labour market status of people with disabilities, the potential for a UK-style ‘Fit Note’ in Ireland and the impact of Health Technology Assessment on access to drug therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis.
There is a real sense of momentum in Ireland and clear evidence that many of the ‘Fit for Work’ messages are having an impact on the way policy-makers are thinking.
Today was a busy day for those of us keen to spread the word about MSDs at work. In London the Work Charter was launched by the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance. The Work Foundation is happy to support it as it strongly echoes messages from our own Fit for Work? Research which has looked at the factors which help or hinder full participation at work among the 6.5 million UK citizens who have MSDs. There was good coverage of the report on the BBC website.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, I was presenting the results of our EU research to a ‘special interest group’ of MEPs in the European Parliament. Also presenting was Mr. Armindo Silva Head of Unit Social Protection and Inclusion Policies, Employment and Social Affairs Directorate. He explained how the new Directive of MSDs was being drafted and consulted on. I presented some of the key findings of the Fit for Work Europe report, highlighting in particular the need to focus on early intervention. Several MEPs spoke in favour of our findings on the links between MSDs and Mental Health and expressed interest in hearing more on this topic. Finally, Mr Marios Kouloumas, Chairman of Eular-PARE – speaking on behalf of people with Rheumatic diseases – explained the importance of taking into account the patient perspective in policy-making, emphasizing that Rheumatic and inflammatory conditions are not caused by work, but can make staying at work difficult if insufficient support is available. This was a very important point because the forthcoming MSD Directive only covers MSDs which are caused by work and not, by definition, Rheumatic conditions. I find this troubling, and it remains to be seen how this serious omission is dealt with by the European Commission.
I recently spotted coverage of this research, published in The Lancet. It suggests that ‘talking therapies’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), especially in group settings, can have a positive impact on recovery from chronic low back pain.
This chimes with the findings of our Fit for Work research which has sought to emphasise the importance of understanding the mental health issues frequently faced by people with MSDs. We found that, for some people, being diagnosed with a chronic condition can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. As a result, people at work might fear disclosing their condition to their employer. In addition, there is evidence that poor mental health can be a bigger barrier to rapid and successful return to work than the physical symptoms of an MSD.
At the launch of our European report in September 2009, Professor Jover from Spain presented data which illustrated that an early intervention for MSDs patients which included a CBT component made a significant difference to return to work rates and yielded a notable economic return. In the autumn of 2010 The Work Foundation will be publishing the results of a further study which is examining the links between chronic conditions and mental health in more detail. Watch this space!
This week The Work Foundation hosted a ‘Health at Work’ Reception to celebrate the high profile and progress which the issue has achieved among employers and policy-makers in recent years. But, with thoughtful speeches from Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work and Lord Freud, shadow minister for Welfare Reform, the audience was reminded that profile and momentum means little without implementation and real change in UK workplaces.
Dame Carol highlighted the impressive growth in awareness about workplace health which she had witnessed during her time as national director – indeed, she was generous enough to acknowledge the part which The Work Foundation has played in this. However, she called on the audience to play their part in making 2010 a ‘Year of Action’. Among other things she highlighted the progress being made by the government’s ‘Fit for Work’ pilots and the support being given to small businesses with workplace health problems. However, she warned that without the resolve of employers and GPs to embrace the principles of early intervention, job retention and rehabilitation, progress towards improving labour market opportunities for those with long-term and chronic conditions would be slow.
Lord Freud, echoing the sentiment of Dame Carol’s plea for action, focused on some of the mechanisms which might improve implementation. First he argued for support for those out of work to be driven by ‘outcome-based commissioning’ – a form of payment by results which would encourage sustainable employment for those with chronic illness or disability. Second, he argued that Good Work was an important way of ensuring that jobs were sustainable and of sufficient quality to engage people in meaningful activity, prevent a return to benefits dependency and, crucially, to improve their wellbeing.
The evening, sponsored by the healthcare company Abbott, also marked the launch of our latest piece of research, ‘Spondyloarthropathy and Work: A review of UK evidence’. The report looks at the effects of a range of conditions, including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and Crohn’s disease, on a person’s ability to work, and examines what more needs to be done to best support the ‘work ability’ of people living with these conditions.
The audience was something of a ‘Who’s Who’ of luminaries from the world of work and wellbeing, including Dr Steve Boorman (Royal Mail), Professor Sayeed Khan (EEF), Dr Bob Grove (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health) and Dr Paul Litchfield (BT). Many other friends of The Work Foundation were present and joined us in expecting 2010 to be a milestone year in ensuring that the health of the UK workforce becomes a major priority for the government, clinicians and employers.
This week I will be in Israel, having meetings and conducting interviews with national experts and public policy officials. Among those I’ll be meeting will be Prof. Tishler, Chair of the Israeli Rheumatology Physicians Union, Ron Wisinger- of the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene, Nachum Izkovich, CEO of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Vered Swid, Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social and Welfare Affairs and Elliot Rosenberg, Head of the Department of Occupational Health in the Ministry of Health. I’ll also be catching up with my old friends Michael Yakuel and Ofra Balaban of Inbar – the Patient’s organisation.
As we finalise the Israeli Fit for Work? report, this visit will allow me to add to our understanding of the labour market status of people with MSDs and the support available to them as they try to live fulfilling working lives. I’m expecting to learn a lot.
Last week I attended two important events which focused on inflammatory conditions. The first was on Monday in London and was a conference organised by the National Audit Office (NAO) – an independent organisation which reports to the British Parliament on the effectiveness with which public money is being spent.
Earlier this year the NAO produced an influential report examining the quality of services for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I was a member of the Advisory Group for the project, along with other friends of the Fit for Work? project such as Professor Paul Emery and Neil Betteridge of EULAR, and Ailsa Bosworth of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS). Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, and herself a Rheumatologist, presented persuasively on the need to keep ‘work’ at the centre of the debate. I spoke on a panel discussion during the conference and emphasised the need to optimise early diagnosis and treatment – not just for clinical reasons – but to give people with Rheumatoid Arthritis the best chance of staying in and returning to work.
The second event was in Madrid on Wednesday evening and it focused on recent research (called Salud y Trabajo) conducted on the impact of inflammatory conditions on work disability in Spain conducted by TAISS and led by Pablo Lazaro. The event also featured two short films, made by independent film-makers, which told the compelling stories of two people recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis respectively. One of the aims of the event was to inform members of the audience about the impact of these conditions on both everyday functioning and on personal relationships. I hope to make these films available on the Fit for Work? website very soon.
Today I attended the first full meeting of the RMSD Interest Group in the European Parliament in Brussels. This group, initiated by EULAR, and chaired by Mrs Edite Estrela MEP (Portugal) was launched on World Arthritis Day in October this year. One of its aims is to raise the profile of Rheumatic conditions and MSDs in the Parliament and in the Commission and to help position EULAR as the authoritative source of clinical and patient voice.
The Group has a number of MEPs as members, including Jim Higgins (Ireland), Antoniya Parvanova (Bulgaria) and Marije Cornelissen (Netherlands). Senior figures from EULAR and EULAR-PARE represented included Professor Paul Emery, Professor Josef Smolen and Neil Betteridge.
The Group was addressed by Dr Gigorij Kogan, Scientific Officer from DG Research and a specialist in chronic disease. He described some of the research into rheumatic diseases and MSDs which the EU had funded during recent years and explained how research priorities were decided. The Group discussed whether rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases were receiving enough priority given their prevalence and their economic and social impact.
The next meeting of the Group will be in March 2010 when the topic for discussion will be ‘Work’. The Fit for Work programme has been asked to provide input to this meeting and we will be working with EULAR to ensure that the content is both informative and provocative!
My colleague Tatiana Quadrello just attended the launch of the Working Joints and Muscles Toolkit in London. She advised on the document, which provides practical guidance in promoting musculoskeletal health in companies as part of an integrated health and wellbeing programme. Click here to follow the link to the BITC website and download the report.
I attended a lunchtime Roundtable event yesterday organised by the European Policy Centre here in Brussels. The speaker was Dr Martin Terberger, Head of Unit for Pharmaceuticals at DG Enterprise and Industry. While the focus of the discussion was the so-called ‘Pharma Package’ a set of EU proposals to deliver safe, innovative and accessible medicines, I was able to ask Dr Terberger a question about the impact which differences in Health Technology Assessment (HTA) helped or hindered accessibility, especially if one outcome was to support the labour market participation of people with long-term or chronic conditions (eg some MSDs).
He was careful to avoid using the term ‘harmonisation’ but felt that, on the science, there was more room for ‘convergence’ around the clinical evidence. He warned, however, that HTA must take care not to widen health inequalities by treating more economically ‘useful’ patients differently from, for example, elderly patients just because of differences in their productive capacity.
On Tuesday, Dame Carol Black and I participated in a Roundtable event in the House of Commons – the seat of the British Government. This was a well attended, lively event and I was given the opportunity to make the following speech about the Fit for Work programme:
“For last 18 months The Work Foundation has been conducting research across 23 countries examining the impact of MSDs – including Inflammatory Diseases – on labour market participation. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) was one of the conditions we examined in detail because we know that levels of work disability and withdrawal from the labour market are high among people with RA – up to 40% within 5 years of diagnosis.
We’ve been looking at the direct and indirect costs of sickness absence from work and of permanent work incapacity attributable to RA. We have also looked at the interventions which Governments, clinicians and employers can take which can keep people with RA attached to the labour market and help them lead fulfilling working lives and make their contribution to a productive economy.
We launched our report in Brussels two weeks ago and we are trying to influence both National Governments and the European Commission to support steps which maximise the Labour Market participation of people with RA. We are doing some of this Advocacy work in collaboration with EULAR.
A key issue (one of many) is that current employment legislation in EU does not recognise MSDs which are not caused by work. Manual handling (CLBP) and Display screen equipment (WRULDs) are in scope – but the duty of care to support those with pre-existing conditions – such as RA – where poor working conditions can make these conditions worse, is currently out of scope.
Good Work is good for health: this includes control over tasks, control over pace & time; manageable physical work demands & an ergonomically suitable working environment; flexibility of working time.
We must reverse the focus of policy & practice from Incapacity to Capacity – the UK ‘fit note’ idea is intended to reinforce this message.
People with MSDs – including RA – can also experience periods of depression or anxiety which can complicate the process of returning to work. Policy-makers, clinicians & employers need to build this into the way they manage job retention & return to work (RTW).
Up to 30% of people with RA avoid disclosing their condition to their employer or colleagues – part of the self-stigma experienced by many.
Early Interventions can be critical, for example:
Accurate & early diagnosis
Early access to treatments and therapies – especially if early symptoms can be arrested and remission achieved
NAO data shows that early treatment brings economic & productivity benefits
TWF shows that early intervention can prolong careers and delay premature withdrawal from the labour market and that there is an economic ‘premium’ to early intervention.
There is considerable political focus on incapacity in the UK at the moment, especially as we are seeking to reduce public expenditure. However, as long as the debate has a punitive tone and is dominated by speeches and newspaper articles which focus on getting the feckless & ‘workshy’ off benefits and back into work, we are going to struggle to address the far more serious issue of how we avoid people with long-term and chronic health conditions becoming detached from the labour market until way after this recession is over.
During the Fit for Work study I’ve met hundreds of people with RA and other inflammatory conditions. None have been feckless or ‘workshy’. Most have been energetic, passionate, proud, determined, analytical, resourceful and dignified. I have been privileged & humbled to work with them & I am all too aware of the talent that goes to waste if people like this are lost to the world of work.”
Fit for Work truly seems to have ‘caught a wave’. After a launch such as we just had for Fit for Work, one always wonders what the best next steps should be to keep up the momentum, and it’s fantastic when others are working towards the same goals. So I’m delighted to note that one of our patrons in the European Parliament, Mrs Edite Estrela, MEP, is helping us to do just that. She today hosted the launch of an interest group on MSDs in at the Parliament in Brussels. She notes in the invitation we saw that the “key goal of the Interest Group should be to ensure the greatest possible visibility for rheumatic (and we presume broader MSDs, since the interest group’s title covers both…) diseases on the European Parliament’s agenda and systematic consideration of the needs of professionals and patients across Europe in all relevant initiatives and legislative acts at European level.”
Equally exciting is an editorial on Fit for Work in The Lancet, available in the journal and here online.
Here in the UK the three main Political Parties have just completed their annual conferences – all anticipating a General Election next year and all seeking to highlight ‘eye-catching’ policy announcements. Yesterday afternoon David Cameron – leader of the Conservative Party – set out his vision for the next few years assuming he becomes our next Prime Minister.
During his speech he told the story of a man who has been signed off sick from work. He would like to work but instead he has just been put on Incapacity Benefit and forced to stay home. Could it be that this issue is becoming ‘mainstream’ at last?
Certainly, and for the last few weeks, the issue of long-term sickness and work incapacity has been high on the political agenda – though this has not always been the most enlightened of debates, as my article in the Times on Wednesday suggested.
With the launch of the European Fit for Work report last week in Brussels, The Work Foundation is placing itself at the centre of the debate on work incapacity. We are calling for an enlightened and proactive approach to the management of long-term and chronic conditions among the working age population.
Yesterday, The Work Foundation briefed HM Treasury Minister Stephen Timms on our work in this area. Even after completing our research, there is still plenty of work to do to take our core messages and our call to action to opinion-leaders and decision-makers!
Please show you support by downloading and reading our call to action and pledge to get Europe Fit for Work!
Minister Milquet, Ladies and Gentlemen; Distinguished Members of the European Parliament; Mrs Parvanova, Mrs. de la Mata, Mr Hutton, Distinguished Guests, welcome to this reception, which marks the launch of the Fit for Work pan-European report – a remarkable analysis of the social and economic impact of musculoskeletal disorders (or MSD’s) in Europe. (more…)
“FIT FOR WORK” reception, 30 September 2009, speech by Jan Jařab, Member of Cabinet of Commissioner Vladimír Špidla
Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure – and honour – to forward to you the greetings of Commissioner Vladimír Špidla, and to congratulate you in his name on the valuable report which is being launched today. (more…)
Fit for Work pan-European Report Presentation and policy Workshop 30 October
Minister Milquet, Ladies and Gentlemen; Distinguished Members of the European Parliament; Mrs Estrela, Mrs Parvanova, Mr Hutton, Distinguished Guests, many thanks for inviting me to take part in this reception and briefly present to you the work of the Directorate General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission; (more…)
[18.30 Tom Ling] An excellent final session that demonstrated, once and for all, the case for action on MSDs at a European and National level. Now our task is to work together to find those concrete actions that will move this debate along and change the way we keep people Fit for Work! (more…)
Muscle and joint pain costs
European economies up to €240 billion a year
New study reveals musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) responsible for more sick days than any other health condition
Brussels, 30 September 2009 – A new study today finds that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for nearly half (49%) of all absences from work and 60% of permanent work incapacity in the European Union. These and other socio-economic consequences of suffering from poor health due to muscle and joint pain represent an estimated cost to society in Europe of up to €240 billion. (more…)
Yesterday I spoke about the Fit for Work project at a conference on ‘Health and Prevention at Work’ organised by the European Confederation of Independent Trades Unions (CESIS) in Rome. This was a great opportunity to showcase our research and debate it with people with a keen interest in workplace health and safety. (more…)
An interesting article caught my attention in Medical News Today which was titled “Can Psychosocial Stress At Work Put At Risk Of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis?”. It looks at a Swedish study published in one of the latest issues of ‘Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics’ which discloses new relationships between stress at work and the development of rheumatoid arthritis. (more…)
The Fit for Work project is examining the labour market status of people with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from across many countries. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey to conduct a series of interviews with eminent Turkish academics and clinicians in both Istanbul and Ankara. (more…)
An exciting – and busy – month for Fit for Work. The Work Foundation hosted an panel discussion at the international Health Technology Assessment conference in Singapore on 23rd June: the panellists were all engaged and the debate was excellent (I had to call it to a close, and it could have run on). We had about 35 people in attendance and I think that what we achieved was to get a serious debate about work productivity on the agenda at an event where it is almost invisible. (more…)
We are delighted to announce that, after their review of the Fit for Work project, the Bone and Joint Decadeare formally endorsing The Work Foundation’s Fit for Work initiative.
The Bone and Joint Decade is a United Nations umbrella initiative to promote musculoskeletal health. The Decade, launched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on November 30 1999, has over the last 10 years helped drive public awareness of issues surrounding musculoskeletal disorders in a wide range of countries, drawing on the expertise of national academic, professional and patient organisations across the globe.
This is an exciting development and we look forward to finding ever more ways of advocating to make Europe more Fit for Work!
At the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), The Work Foundation are hosting a satellite symposium at which we will be discussing the importance of early intervention and appropriate treatment for those with musculoskeletal disorders, focusing on the importance of work when treating rheumatoid arthritis patients. This meeting is being chaired by Professor Ronald van Vollenhoven… a copy of the programme, detailing our distinguished panel can be found here.
The session takes place on Friday, 12 June, 17.30 – 19.00 in Auditorium 1, Bella Centre, Copenhagen. We look forward to seeing you there!
The Fit for Work initiative is a terrific way to influence labour and social welfare policies in the studied countries as the initiative will begin to present evidence for the benefits of early intervention in the workplace. Staff, employers and policy makers can easily identify the real benefits these improvements could make.
I know from even a quick review of the emerging evidence that there is a powerful case to be made for seeing the workplace as a site for activities and interventions to support healthy working lives. For both staff and employers we can see how these opportunities for such benefits will lead to health gains outside of work and productivity gains within it. (more…)
Today, as workers across Europe face uncertain futures and an ever more challenging job market it’s clear to us in Arthritis Ireland, and to the employers, Trades Unions and policymakers we speak to, that employee health has never been more important. It is important as a driver of productivity and competitiveness and a waste of money for those affected not to be in the workplace. It’s a huge mistake in the 21st century not to have these people contributing to society rather than taking.
Specifically, the Fit for Work report launched today is asking tough questions about the ways that workers with long-term and chronic conditions – especially Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) – can be kept in work in a way that maximises their economic contribution and their quality of life. (more…)
The Fit for Work Europe Coalition works to promote a multi-stakeholder dialogue on musculoskeletal disorders to drive clinical practice and health and work policy that will improve the quality of working life for people with MSDs. Fit for Work is a partnership of organizations and individuals, and enjoys the patronage of The Work Foundation, the Bone and Joint Decade, EULAR and RAND Europe, and a broad range of stakeholders. The Fit for Work Europe Coalition is supported by an ongoing grant from Abbott--a founding partner--and a supporting grant from GE Healthcare. Secretariat support is provided by Weber Shandwick.