OPINION: AECC University College Responds to Recent Report that Record Numbers of UK Workers are Off Work due to Ill Health
Phill Heritage, Human Performance Lead and BASES-accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist
The BBC recently reported that record numbers of the UK workforce were not in work due to ill health.
The article asserted that the number of people not working in the UK due to long-term sickness has risen to a new record, according to official figures. Typically, for every 13 people currently working, one person is on long-term sick.
Human Performance Lead at AECC University College, and Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology, Phill Heritage, shares his thoughts on the ways in which UK companies can take action to prevent ill health amongst the UK workforce:
“There are ways that businesses can support their employees, to understand and optimise their health. At AECC University College, we offer a Health MOT service to individuals and businesses. Testing takes about 30 minutes per person and involves a 14-point health ‘MOT’ that provides a comprehensive report on an individual’s health.
“This testing can monitor important health factors such as blood glucose, fats, obesity and more to give a better understanding of cardiovascular health, stress, obesity and metabolic disease risk.
“Coming from a performance background, our team is used to working with people who are at the top end of health. These are people who are extremely fit and who tend to have very good cardiovascular and metabolic health because they exercise a lot.
“Our Health MOT service takes what we have learned by working with a very small section of the population and transfers it to the general population – in terms of measuring different elements of health to optimise performance.
"We are taking the skills that we have in measuring physical performance, but also in correcting and improving it, to the general population.”
Health Report to Empower Individuals
“As part of our Health MOTs, individual employees receive a report about their workforce’s health, which gives them insight into risk of missing work through ill health, exposure to long-term health absence and how best to optimise performance. Employers and employees receive advice as part of the service and, if needed, are referred onwards if testing does find a significant issue with their health.
“By offering Health MOTs, we’re trying to take the surprise element out of ill health. It’s about primary prevention, catching a health issue that is developing before it passes the disease threshold and actioning secondary prevention plans if we identify ill health in anyone.
“Should a person be asymptomatic and then suffer a heart attack, or a hyperglycemic episode; that comes as a surprise and then that person needs to receive a secondary prevention program. That means the risk is higher, cost is higher and outcomes are more likely to be worse.
“An annual Health MOT should be a preventative screening tool – testing healthy people to help them to stay healthy, and to pick up and flag any issues before they cause ill health. Ideally, everyone should have access to annual health screening.”
Encouraging Timely Interventions
“Health MOTs flag times in a person’s life when their health is deteriorating and they are at risk, which then allows that person to put an intervention in place, with guidance, to turn that around.
“If you have good health, you have that peace of mind for another year. If not, and you have a disease and you don’t know it, you get referred in for treatment to return to good health.
“Health MOTs offer companies the means to take a proactive approach to improving the health and wellbeing of their employees to protect against burnout, sickness, and absenteeism.
“They can be highly beneficial to businesses, as employers gain an understanding of the health profile of their workforce and can implement targeted interventions to improve it. More of the workforce working at their full potential should lead to improved business outcomes.
“Companies don’t receive access to the health data of individual employees, but they do receive a health profile of their employees as a whole, or within specific sections of the business.
“Businesses can use this, with our help, to implement targeted education and support strategies targeted at improving employee health – and business productivity. Investment in employee health and wellbeing makes businesses more attractive to employees, which is crucial in a highly competitive job market.”
What does Health Monitoring Involve?
Health monitoring can effectively monitor measures related to common causes of illness and premature death including:
- Blood glucose – used to monitor insulin sensitivity which, when impaired, is linked to diabetes
- Blood total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, Triglyceride and HDL:Total Cholesterol – related to dyslipidaemia, cardiovascular disease and obesity
- BMI, Body Composition and Hip:Waist ratio – indicate risk of diseases including: cardiovascular disease; diabetes; obesity and cancer
- Blood pressure – indicator of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stress and anxiety.
Statistics for Loss of Workforce to Ill-Health
Office for National Statistics gives us the following insight into the impact of ill-health on the UK workforce:
- In the private sector, 100.1 million working days were lost due to ill-health with a higher percentage of absence in males. The benefits of investing in employee health and wellbeing are clear.
- Up to 46.5 million working days were lost in the UK in 2021 due to health reasons including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental illnesses such as stress.
- 86.7 million days of work were missed in 2021 due to long-term conditions.
- 58.4 million as a result of other health conditions.
- 2-16% of salary costs in the UK spent on absence.
- Associated cost exceeds £100bn per year.
- Additional £50bn lost in NI and other costs.
- Mental health costs £42-45bn annually due to days missed, presenteeism and lost turnover.