The importance of access to occupational health

The importance of access to occupational health

Only 45% of employees can access advice or services at work

The importance of access to occupational health was highlighted in the July edition of People Management, the HR media that covers all the latest news, opinions and insights from the HR and L&D world. An article by Elizabeth Howlett highlights that the majority of UK workers don’t have access to occupational health (OH) support and that only 45% of employees can access advice or services at work prompting calls for an overhaul of the system.

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) said the shortfall was happening at a time when 1.4 million workers were suffering mental health, musculoskeletal conditions, skin or respiratory problems and cancer.   SOM detailed a number of recommendations in their report including greater support for businesses in evaluating the economic benefit of OH interventions, the creation of a centralised body to guide research in OH and better dissemination of new and best practices to employers.

Will this change going forward?

Lewis Cone, a senior B2B analyst at the market intelligence agency Mintel commented, ‘Changes in the OH are inevitable because there will continue to be a massive shift in where OH services are provided- in the workplace, large enterprises, public sector organisations, SME’s and among the self employed.   As the economy shows signs of slowing down, OH initiatives that can boost long-term productivity might start to become more common’

In a report produced my Health Management an occupational health provider,  they advised that by 2020, it is estimated that one in three British workers will be over the age of 50 years, which signifies an increase in the prevalence of chronic health conditions – 42% of people aged between 45-64 will have a long- term health condition by 2020 compared to 21% of those aged between 25-44 (Public Health England).  According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), small businesses (10-50 employees) accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016, and the largest growth in new business has been in the small business sector. Smaller companies are far less likely to provide in-house occupational health services or contract occupational health requirements out to external providers.( This will need to addressed and perhaps it is an opportunity for the UK Government to assist businesses through incentive schemes.

Why do you need to provide access to occupational health?

Awareness of mental health in the workplace can empower workers to speak up and ask for help as needed however, in contrast negative workplace factors are likely to worsen workers’ experiences and lead to depression. Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.   The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.(

Studies reveal that close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year. Furthermore, for every suicide there are more than 20 suicide attempts.  ( Suicides and attempted suicides have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and society in general.

Various employee surveys have revealed that it is not just financial reward that employees seek from their employer but a balanced work life environment that allows flexibility for family and personal care.

An article published in the Guardian newspaper on 4th July 2019,  revealed that ‘One in 10 people in a hospital bed in the UK are alcohol-dependent and one in five are doing themselves harm by their drinking, according to research that quantifies for the first time the massive burden to the NHS of Britain’s drinking culture.’ (

It is apparent that the need for occupational health care and employee support needs to be on the agenda of every boardroom in the country and given the urgency and financial resources that it requires.

Why invest in occupational health support?

The Occupational Health industry produced a report in May 2019 that advised that ‘Long-term sickness absence is estimated to cost private sector businesses in the UK a total of £4.17 billion a year, and is set to reach £4.81 billion a year by 2030.  This makes it important for employers to work with staff to manage their return to work, maintain morale and invest in their wellbeing’. (

In the same vain, in their Working Well Report, the John Lewis Partnership and Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) provided new research that states that the total cost of absenteeism in the UK due to mental health and musculoskeletal conditions is forecast to reach £3.8billion in 2025.  Whilst this is already a staggering substantial figure, they further say, this will be dwarfed by an estimated £84billion in reduced productivity by 2025 (

This begs the question are we just going to let these figures soar hoping for some employee mind-set shift in regard to their personal wellbeing or are we going to proactively get involved in supporting and caring for our employees?

How do we ensure access to occupational health?

It is primarily the government’s responsibility to ensure and promote the interest of society and this includes high quality health care.   However, we are aware of the gaps in service provision especially when dealing with more personal and pastoral care.  P3 Business Care prides itself in its capability and expertise of providing this kind of support that is particularly required when, for example, handling mental health and addiction issues.

The benefit of P3 Business Care personal and proactive support to employees working in partnership with the employer is substantiated by further useful statistics from the John Lewis Partnership Cebr.  They report that through employers, health experts and government working together, they estimate businesses in the UK can save up to £1.7billion by 2025 from the cost of absenteeism through early intervention.

P3 Business Care believes there is immense value in engaging our proactive support services to address occupational health issues and strongly believe the timing for engaging our Business Partners across the UK could not be more timely.   It is essential at a national level that we keep promoting the conversation on the benefits of early intervention and employee wellbeing.

P3 Business Care’s positive steps towards the provision of occupational health and wellbeing support

The first step is to capture senior level support.   This is critical to the success of any employee wellbeing initiative because Senior Management sets the organisational agenda and the budget.   We do this through:

  • Gathering information for Senior Management support
  • Understanding the strategic outlook and plans of the organisation
  • Building a financial case for the implementation of wellbeing support
  • Planning the launch of the wellbeing initiative

It is important to understand the business operations, including their vision, mission, financial position and their short and long-term strategic priorities.   This is essential for integrating wellbeing support into the business and harnessing Senior Management support.

Secondly, execute your wellbeing support. As its name suggests, this step is about the operational side of your employee wellbeing. Make sure that managers who may be involved understand its aims, value and the role they are required to play. Research by Towers Perrin-ISR ( shows that a genuine interest in people’s wellbeing by senior management is the number one driver of engagement. Do not throw away a key opportunity to enhance engagement by failing to bring managers with you on the employee wellbeing journey.

Thirdly, ensure you obtain regular updates and evaluate engagement. Regularly appraise your employee wellbeing programme. Establish what is going well and where there are challenges and evaluate your success against predetermined indicators. This can take many forms and will depend on your overall objectives. Evaluation may be utilisation rates, absence data or other performance indicators you have specified as part of your primary objectives. P3 Business Care provides a monthly or quarterly report identifying our engagement between our Business Partners and employees, across a wide range of topics.

About P3 Business Care

P3 Business Care is a social enterprise operating across the UK. Visiting your business on a weekly basis we provide personal and proactive support to your employees working in partnership with the company. We develop trust & relationships so we can identify and address issues before they become absence or staff turnover.  Read more about our services here

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