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Fit for Work? Half UK workforce could face chronic illness by 2030

Almost half of the UK’s workforce is likely to face at least one long-term health problem by 2030, according to Fit for Work UK, a coalition of expert health organisations, healthcare professionals, policy makers, employers and patients.

The group warned that the cost of ill-health among UK workers would “far exceed” the current £100bn estimate, with long-term sickness absence, presenteeism and work disability are set to rise over the next two decades. “An ageing workforce is also forecast to increase the proportion of workers leaving employment early as a result of their health,” the group said.

The coalition has drawn up a five-point plan which it believes will help the UK tackle the growing problem of illness in the workforce. It is calling for a cross-government strategy and programme for health and work; clear national leadership in the form of the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Health and Work; accessible information aimed at helping people stay in work; measures that support health and return to work within NHS frameworks and include incentives for clinicians that make return to work a key outcome of care; incentives and rewards that value healthcare providers who support people with long terms conditions in their return to work.

Commenting on Fit For Work UK’s proposals, its President, Professor Stephen Bevan, said: “Over the next 20 years an increasing proportion of the ageing UK workforce will retire later and develop chronic illnesses. The UK requires urgent action now to prevent this trend developing into a crisis of public health and impaired labour productivity. It is only by developing a cross-government strategy and improving the dissemination of the tools needed to empower people with long-term conditions, that this challenge can be met.”

Fit for Work Coalition member Professor Karen Middleton, CEO of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, commented: “Government policy focuses on reducing welfare costs, but there are millions of people in work whose ill-health threatens their job security and productivity. Simple, early and joined-up action, such as commissioning self-referral physiotherapy services, to help workers to manage conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders – the cause of 35m lost working days each year – can save money and improve the quality of working lives for millions.”

The challenges faced by the UK’s workforce are set to become tougher, and IHC is already seeing the benefits of working towards return to work policies that truly help individuals and employers to face them. Commenting on the Fit for Work UK call to action, Paul Roberts, consultant at IHC, said: “At IHC we are increasingly working with customers to guide them with long-term or chronic illnesses. People at work with long-term conditions are increasing and some estimates peg at 50% by 2030 will have at least one condition. Traditional private medical insurance specifically excludes cover yet there are many other services and policies that can come in to play. Finding the right solution for the complex problems that are often unique needs specialist support and advice.”

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