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Fit For Work EuropeThe Work Foundation

Fit EU Blog

Discourse on work and wellbeing in the EU

Archive for the ‘The Work Foundation’ Category

Fit for Work in Europe

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The Fit for Work Coalition report, produced by The Work Foundation has found that Germany and UK have the worst sickness absence rates in Europe when it comes to muscular skeleton disorders (MSD). MSDs (including back pain, neck, shoulder and arm pains) are the leading cause of sickness absence across the EU, with 44m workers suffering, costing up to 240bn Euros in terms of lost productivity and sickness absence, representing 2% of GDP across the EU. MSDs are also linked to the next leading cause of absence, stress.  There is a great deal of research that MSDs can trigger stress and stress can be the underlying cause of back pain, etc.

It is urgent that we need to prevent and intervene early so that the predictions that 50% of the working population in the EU does not have these problems by the year 2030. There have been some really good examples of early interventions, particularly in Spain.  The Madrid Clinic did a two year study of intervening with people suffering from MSDs after 5 days of sickness among 13,000 workers and reduced temporary work absence by 39%. The report suggests that if there was only a 25% reduction in absence from an early intervention, 640,000 workers throughout the EU would be available for work.

This work is very important in both understanding, preventing and treating MSDs as well as workplace stress, where the number  of workers suffering are growing rapidly and is now the leading cause of incapacity benefit in the UK.  The Fit for Work Coalition and The Work Foundation should be congratulated for an outstanding report and a way forward.

Cary L. Cooper, CBE, is Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University in the UK and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Fit for Work in Europe
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Good Health? Yes Minister – whatever your portfolio

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

It may sound trite, but the old saying that ‘every minister should be a Health Minister’ has never been more true than today. It’s obvious, to me at least, that ministers overseeing planning and transport policy, for example, should be thinking about the opportunities they have to help citizens walk or cycle safely. Finance Ministers should consider whether some citizens’ wellbeing is disproportionately compromised by austerity measures and Employment Ministers should routinely think about ways of helping those with chronic ill health or disabilities have access to fulfilling working lives if they aspire to them.

All sounds very utopian, doesn’t it? Yet if we are to develop more strategic and joined-up approaches to preventative public health, this is exactly the kind of thinking that we need to encourage among policymakers across all developed Western economies. The fact that we are doing everything we can to minimise, control and reduce healthcare costs is a sign of the austere and narrowly-focused times we live in and perhaps we should think more about where we ‘invest’ for longer term benefit rather than just cutting to hit a short-term budget target. Currently, spending on preventative healthcare across all EU member states represents only 3% of the total, while over 70% is spent on managing the care of people with chronic conditions – an increasing number of whom will be of working-age. Unless we find ways of investing in proactive and joined-up health initiatives which are about town planning, employment and public health, we will find that the much-celebrated capacity of our health system to treat people once they become ill will run out of resources.

This week in Brussels, The Work Foundation, through our Fit for Work Europe Coalition, is hosting a major summit on this very theme. Called Investing in Healthcare: Breaking down the Silos, endorsed by the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU and featuring contributions from eminent speakers such as Vytenis Andriukaitis, Health Minister, Lithuania,  Dr Roberto Bertolini of the World Health Organisation Europe; Dame Carol Black, Co-President of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition; Gianni Pittella, Vice-President, European Parliament  and Dr. F. Jesús Alvarez Hidalgo, Principal Administrator, Unit Heath, Safety and Hygiene at Work, DG EMPL,  European Commission  this event will highlight examples from across the EU of innovative thinking which suggests that a ‘Health in all policies’ approach may still be possible and certainly desirable.

Our specific interest in this event is to showcase what can happen if the health needs of people of working-age are prioritised so that they can benefit from quicker diagnosis, earlier interventions which allow them to remain active in the labour market and support from employers which allows them to access and flourish in good quality and secure jobs. We will hear examples from Latvia, Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Germany. We’ll also be challenging policymakers both in Brussels and in national governments to act now to break down policy thinking in silos which prevent joined-up and forward-looking action which just might stand a chance of defusing the public health time bomb which we all know is ticking away.



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Posted in Musculoskeletal Disorders, Policy, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Good Health? Yes Minister – whatever your portfolio
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New interactive tools demonsrate burden of MSDs across Europe

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Since 2007, the Fit for Work initiative has looked at the impact of MSDs on individuals’ ability to work in 30 countries in Europe and beyond. Now that we have collected data from all over Europe, we are beginning to understand why some countries perform better at tackling the impact of MSDs on the economy and the society. We see strong evidence for the connection between prevalence of long-term illness, labour market indicators and the country’s economic performance.


Posted in Europe, Musculoskeletal Disorders, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on New interactive tools demonsrate burden of MSDs across Europe
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Building alliances in Ireland – The Work Foundation and Arthritis Ireland go ‘Fit for Work’

Monday, May 17th, 2010

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.

Posted in Health Policy, Labour policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Policy, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Building alliances in Ireland – The Work Foundation and Arthritis Ireland go ‘Fit for Work’
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Fit for Work in Israel

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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.

Posted in Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Organisations, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Fit for Work in Israel
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The European Fit for Work discussions continue…

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

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.

Posted in EULAR, Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Organisations, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on The European Fit for Work discussions continue…
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The Work Foundation @ European Parliament RMSD interest group

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

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!

Posted in Europe, Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Organisations, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on The Work Foundation @ European Parliament RMSD interest group
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The Work Foundation @ Business in the Community (BITC)

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

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.

Posted in Europe, Health Policy, Labour policy, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on The Work Foundation @ Business in the Community (BITC)
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Do HTA differences help or hinder accessibility?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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.

Posted in Europe, Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Organisations, Policy, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Do HTA differences help or hinder accessibility?
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Photos from the Pan-European Launch

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Browse photos from the pan-European report launch by viewing the slideshow below. If you have not yet downloaded the report itself then you can find it here.

Posted in EULAR, Europe, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Photos from the Pan-European Launch
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Bringing Fit for Work to the House of Commons

Friday, October 16th, 2009

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.”

Posted in Early Intervention, Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Organisations, Policy, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | 1 Comment »
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Is the next UK Government Fit for Work?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

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!

Posted in Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Policy, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Is the next UK Government Fit for Work?
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Show Your Support

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009


Read or download our call to action and pledge to get Europe Fit for Work!

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, Health Policy, Labour policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Policy, Rehabilitation, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Work Foundation | Comments Off on Show Your Support
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Live Blog from FfW pan-European Launch

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

[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!

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