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IHC Newsletter, Issue 17, December 2014

Editor’s letter

Welcome to the December issue of IHC Insider.

From Bupa’s widely discussed paper on potential for growth in private healthcare to the growing momentum for the upcoming general election, this has been a busy six months for the industry. We’ve had new products, new approaches to employee wellbeing and, on a wider scale, there is a real appetite for change and a willingness to find new ways to provide value for money in healthcare.

In this newsletter, we take a look at the developments of the past six months, and ask what the future might hold. We hope you find the content useful, informative and interesting. As ever, we are keen to hear from you, so please do send any opinions, questions and feedback to me at proberts@ihc.co.uk.

Paul Roberts

Industry news

Medical advances rely on technology, but until recently a visit to the GP has felt like a fairly low-tech exercise. You make an appointment and show up. But as part of the government’s plans to create seven-day access to GPs, in some cases the second stage may be changing.

David Cameron’s £50m GP Access Fund is aimed at increasing access to GP services across the UK, and includes seven-day opening, 8am to 8pm appointment and use of Skype, email and telephone consultations. So no need to show up anymore – you the doctor will see you online.

The prime minister said: “There has been a great response from doctors, with lots of innovative ideas, and we will now see over seven million patients given weekend and evening opening hours, alongside more access to their family doctor on the phone, via email or even Skype. This is an important step and good news for patients.”

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, added: “By freeing up hard working family doctors to spend more time with their sickest patients, and by making it easier for other patients to get through to their GP surgery for help and advice at evenings and weekends, these initiatives have the potential to be a win-win-win for patients, their doctors and the NHS.”

Paul Roberts of IHC, said: “The idea of virtual GP appointments has been around since the start of the millennium and I believe that now society is more ready than ever to embrace a new approach. The reality is that with smart phones the GP will be in your hand and not at a PC desk based system. It may just be that 2015 is the start of a significant change to the way we access primary care.”

The future of the UK healthcare sector

It’s no surprise that our country’s health system has been playing a huge part in the major political parties’ 2015 election manifestos. Growing pressure on services and facilities, grim predictions suggesting deficit that could be heading towards £1bn, and all against a backdrop of continuing economic uncertainty.

There may be little in the way of easy solutions, but there is no shortage of talk about how to tackle the trouble with the NHS. Chancellor Osborne George Osborne outlined details on increased spending on health in his Autumn Statement in November, pledging £2bn of additional funding for “frontline NHS” in England over 2015/16. This will cover a transformation fund to start the changes for the coming five years, worth £200m, and part of a £1bn investment in GP services over four years.

Responding to the initial announcement of this spending by Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, Chris Ham, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: “The additional funding for the NHS confirmed today will provide a substantial boost for front line services and is an important step forward, especially with the public finances still under significant pressure. It underlines how much the debate has moved on over the last few weeks, with the case for more investment in the NHS now accepted by all the main political parties.”

Ed Miliband announced Labour’s plans to reduce the national overall deficit year-on-year while pledging to protect the NHS. Labour has also said it will create a £330m Cancer Treatments Fund for all types of cancer treatment, covering the latest forms of radiotherapy, surgery and drugs. The party announced that a new cancer strategy would be published within six months of a Labour government, as well as a plan to tackle ageism in cancer treatment.

The Liberal Democrats, for their part, have said extra funding for the NHS should be a priority and called for a “real terms” increase in NHS funding of £1bn in 2016/17 and 2017/18, with an extra £500m for mental health services. Danny Alexander, said: “Our funding commitment is for the next Parliament, but as responsible stewards of the NHS we have a duty to ensure that any short term pressures for 2015/16 within the health service are dealt with properly at the autumn statement.”

Meanwhile UKIP came under pressure to clarify its position on the NHS, and in an article in the Independent, Nigel Farage said: “Ukip will keep the NHS free at the point of use. Ukip will stop any further use of PFI (Public Finance Initiatives), and encourage local authorities to buy out their PFI contracts early where it is affordable to do so. Ukip will ensure GPs’ surgeries are open at least one evening per week where there is demand for it. Ukip opposes plans to charge patients for visiting their GP. We will make sure that visitors to the UK and migrants who have been here for fewer than five years have NHS-approved private medical insurance, saving the NHS around £2bn per year.”

The fact of the matter is, whichever party finds itself in charge will be facing a gigantic challenge in the form of the NHS. Deficits and pressure are growing and finding the right path forwards is essential in order for the system to move forward and improve.

Chris Ham of the King Fund says: “Whoever forms the next government will inherit a service under huge pressure and in need of radical transformation. But there is now an emerging consensus around the agenda for change set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View. This is very important, creating an opportunity to drive through fundamental changes to services that could significantly benefit patients.”

Five ways to get moving in 2015

We all know that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy, but according to US cardiologist Martha Grogan, it is also downright dangerous. She says that sitting down all day is about as toxic to our health as smoking. And with the added, let’s say, cushioning that some may be feeling as a result of enthusiasm for Christmas pudding, the urgency surrounding the matter may have grown over Christmas. But it’s not all about physical wellbeing. Stress and mental health issues also need tackling to ensure employees are on top form both at work and in their lives outside the office.

Wellbeing and balance is crucial to a healthy workforce, so why not add one or more of these resolutions to your company’s list in 2015?

  1. Get up – literally. Human beings were not built to sit for long periods of time in one position. A number of recent studies have shown that sitting for excessive numbers of hours leads to increased occurrences of a whole range of health complications. Standing desks allow even office-based workers to do their jobs on their feet – it’s been reported that Silicon Valley workers have increasingly been taking the stand-up-to-work option. A number of companies in the UK provide height-adjustable desks so that the user can choose to sit or stand.
  2. Legend has it that a sign at the New York Marathon this year bore the words ‘Pain is temporary, a Facebook post is forever.” If you have any runner friends on social media, you are doubtless all too familiar with their PBs and latest achievements. Well, if you can’t beat them, run anyway. Aside from getting physically fit, the benefits of exercise on mental wellbeing are well documented, and bringing together a team to take part in a running event can be a hugely rewarding experience for all involved, from the seasoned runner to the nervous beginner.

    Find out about a running event near you at the Park Runs website www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events.

  3. Join the Global Corporate Challenge – a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin approach to building teams and increasing wellbeing in businesses on a global level. The aim of the group behind this is to ‘Create a culture of health from the ground up.’ Companies sign up to a 100 day challenge where teams of seven take part in “a journey that will increase their physical activity levels and improve their diet and the quality of their sleep.” The challenge covers physical activity, nutrition and even sleep.

    Find out more at the GCC website. www.gettheworldmoving.com/program-overview.

  4. The Time to Change campaign was launched in 2007 and is led by the mental health charity Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The aim is to break down stigma and improve understanding on mental health issues. Time for Change invites organisations to sign a corporate pledge on mental health, to help provide employers with a way to talk and develop an action plan around mental health in the workplace.

    Find out more at www.time-to-change.org.uk/organisational-pledge-faq.

  5. The chances are your organisation already has facilities in place to offer support to employees and their families suffering from stress or other issues. But perhaps your staff know too little about them. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are a valuable resource, but all too often under used. Increase your communication with staff on the subject of EAPs, ensure employees know that there is somewhere entirely independent and confidential they can turn if they need support on issues within or outside work. After all, there is no health without mental health.

A review of the past six months

In this section, we take a look at some of the stories we at IHC have covered over the past six months. It has been a busy time for the industry, with plenty to discuss, and here we round-up articles on some of the key issues affecting our industry.

Changing attitudes to PMI
It’s no surprise that employees appreciate private medical insurance, and employers value being able to offer the benefit. But price and perceived value remains a barrier. We take a look at changing attitudes to PMI among employers. Read full article.

Wellbeing at work
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. We take a look at the challenges faced, and how to overcome them. Read full article.

Working hard to provide wellbeing solutions
The most common cause of prolonged absence in the UK’s workforce is the musculoskeletal issue. Back, neck and muscle problems see more workers forced to take time off than any other condition. What’s behind the problem, and what can be done to resolve it? Read full article.

When planning pays off
If a serious health issue strikes, dealing with financial stress on top can simply compound the problem. Finances would be a major concern for many – some 41% of people would have to rely on savings should they face a long term illness, and 27% would need to rely on the state for income, according to research by Group Risk Development (GRiD). We take a look at how taking precautionary measures can be invaluable for employees. Read full article.

Bupa’s prescription for growth
Bupa’s Prescription for Growth paper seems to raise more questions than it does offer solutions, in many ways. The paper, which follows the recent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into the private healthcare sector, outlines a sector that is faced with both substantial challenges and almost limitless opportunities. We take a look at what the paper covers and what the future may hold. Read full article.

Healthshield getting friendly
Health Shield has upped its game to offer an increased package of benefits and providers within its Tailored Schemes, including an improved GP Helpline, which will have a virtual GP surgery with video and phone appointments, and a private prescription service delivered anywhere in the world. We find out more. Read full article.

A few good reasons to consider PMI
From our largest claims to the longest waiting lists … a few good reasons to think about offering private medical insurance to your benefits package. Read full article

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