How private healthcare can tackle the malaise of workplace sickness

An estimated 185.6m working days were lost due to worker sickness in 2022, a record high. This was an increase of 35.8m on 2021’s figures and 47.4m up on those pre-pandemic; nearly three in ten instances related to minor illness.

The year also saw the sickness absence rate reach its highest since 2004, at 2.6%. The absence rates of those who are long-term sick but still in work increased. Record numbers have exited the labour market and become economically inactive due to long-term sickness.

Lost output amongst working-age people due to ill health is said to equate to £150bn per year, and the estimated additional cost to the Government is £70bn per year.

Against this gloomy backdrop, employers may wonder what the answer is. Some, however, are already bucking the trend, having provided their employees with access to private medical treatment through a company scheme.

In 2021, the equivalent of 1 in 3 people in the UK (21.9 million) had access to insurer-provided health services to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness. The number has risen consistently year on year between 2019 and 2021 by 2.8 million people. That’s an increase of 15%, equivalent to more than the combined populations of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Sheffield (2.5m).

For all recorded outcomes, nearly 9 in 10 (86%) were supported to stay in work or return to work following an absence. Of the total, more than 1 in 5 (21%) people stayed at work. Nearly two-thirds (65%) returned to work after an absence, while non-return to work outcomes were reported in 14% of cases. Non-return to work outcomes are recorded in the event of death, as well as someone being unable to return to work at that time.

These figures demonstrate the great value of health and protection insurance, which can provide employees with speedier treatment and potentially prevent any health condition they are encountering from getting worse. With access to virtual GPs and the offer of flexible appointments, access to healthcare can fit into both workplace and family schedules.

With mental health having huge impacts on the workplace – and often being something employers struggle to handle – it is also interesting that over half of people who accessed rehabilitation services through their health insurance policy did so to gain help with a mental health condition. Notably, in July 2022, 52% of British workers said they felt stressed at work.

The medical support provided can also help tackle other issues in the workplace, such as presenteeism – part of our new ‘always on’ culture but a path that can lead to burnout.

Getting employees back to a place where they can better focus and concentrate on their jobs, contribute ideas and creativity, and make better decisions can have a huge benefit. It can also raise morale within teams and help avoid friction and disputes between employees. All of these areas are key to workplace productivity and innovation.

As well as providing consultations, diagnostic services and treatments, a health and protection insurance policy can provide employees with talking therapies, CBT, counselling support and methods to tackle stress and anxiety. At a physical level, it can offer physiotherapy services and occupational health therapies. Even fitness and nutrition support can be provided.

With so many practical reasons to cut absenteeism and boost productivity, the costs of setting up a scheme could be soon offset. Talk to us today about how to get your workforce back to work through private healthcare.