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Early intervention could help thousands back to work

The UK has the second worst sickness absence rate in Europe, new research from the Work Foundation shows. 

A report for the Fit for Work Europe Coalition found that over 60,000 more employees could be at work each day if early interventions were made more widely accessible for people with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). 

MSD is the leading cause of sickness absence across the EU, and includes back pain and neck, shoulder or arm strains. The disorder costs up to €240bn in lost productivity and sickness absence and £15bn for the UK alone.

The Work Foundation looked at the results of an early intervention clinic in Madrid, which managed to reduce temporary work absence by 39% after assessing and treating 13,000 workers with MDS after five days of sickness. 

The report calls for Government, employers and the health service to coordinate action for early intervention with MDS. 

Professor Stephen Bevan, founding president of the FfWE Coalition, said: “Because access to early healthcare interventions for workers with MSDs are not being prioritised, thousands are taking unnecessarily long periods away from work or even leaving work permanently when tried and tested tactics could be helping to speed up their recovery and return to work. 

“If these results were repeated across the whole of the EU, we estimate that up to one million workers would be available to work each day. Even if the reduction in absence achieved were 25% rather than 39%, we estimate that in excess of 640,000 workers would be available for work each day.” 

Dame Carol Black, co-president of Fit for Work, said: “In the UK, 300,000 people make long-term sickness absence claims each year. The results from the Spanish study reveal just how important early intervention is for people with MSDs. 

“With the sickness absence currently costing the UK economy £15bn, the benefits of early intervention must be taken seriously by all stakeholders and woven into government policies.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Ian Hesketh   18/10/2013 at 07:30

Another piece of great research from The Work Foundation. Early intervention is clearly the key, supporting the old adage that prevention is better than cure. Hopefully Gvmt will identify both the health and fiscal benefits of this work and introduce [evidence based] policy to address the recommendations.

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