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.