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.
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.
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.
How Health Technology Assessments can consider Labour Market Participation and Work Productivity as a Clinical Outcome: Comparative case studies of international practice.
The number of individuals of working age living with at least one chronic condition is increasing due to the effects of population ageing, poor lifestyle choices and later retirement. Most individuals with long-term conditions want to work, but many are denied this opportunity because some employers and healthcare professionals fail to recognise that being in good quality work can aid condition management and rehabilitation, ultimately reducing the economic burden on the state, employers and households. Yet, in many countries the HTA regimes do not take into account labour market outcomes when assessing the cost-effectiveness of interventions.
During the last year, the Fit for Work Europe Coalition has brought together experts from across the globe to explore evidence for the inclusion of a wider societal perspective in healthcare decision-making. Despite methodological issues, evidence suggests that macro cross-governmental decisions between healthcare, labour, and welfare departments could apply HTA as a way of counteracting the effects of ageing and rise in disability on labour market participation and work productivity. Our eight case studies found that the scope of HTA agencies, and the incentives to adopt the results of HTA differ between countries, which limits the ability of HTA to consider a wide range of investments (such as new treatments and devices), as well as the implementation of recommendations informed by HTA. The panel compared the use of societal and payer perspectives in health decision-making internationally, and provided practical recommendations for health economists and policymakers.
The session was chaired by Dr Chris Henshall an associate professor of the health economics research group at Brunel University and visiting fellow at the centre for health economics at the University of York. As well as myself, we were joined by Dr Marieke Krol of the institute for medical technology assessment at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands and Dr Rupendra Shrestra who is a research fellow of the NHMRC clinical trials centre at the Sydney Medical School at The University of Sydney in Australia.
The consensus of the presentations and the panel discussion was that work productivity data could enhance healthcare decision-making in many cases, especially where people of working age ran a high risk of leaving the labour market as a result of their health. Dr Shrestra presented data from Australia which showed that 58% of men between the ages of 45-64 years who leave the labour market, do so because of a health condition. Dr Krol suggested that, from her analysis, if work productivity were included routinely in health economic assessments of medical interventions, approximately 30% of decisions to deny access on cost-utility grounds would be overturned.
The panel agreed that, while more work was needed to reach consensus on the methods used to calculate productivity costs, the demographic shifts in the workforce and the need to extend healthy working lives provided compelling impetus for more proactive use of healthcare interventions to help more people with chronic conditions to remain in, or return to, work.
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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 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…)
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…)
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…)
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.