38% of people
say self doubt makes their return to work harder
working days lost every year
cost of sickness to the public purse
Western Mail 31st August 2011
Action urged to combat high levels of sick leave
"Many people think that you must be off work to recover fully from illness - the challenge is to uproot these misconceptions" says Professor Sir Mansel Aylward.
Anxiety and self-doubt are the biggest barriers to people's return to work after illness, according to a Cardiff University expert.
Professor Sir Mansel Aylward yesterday called upon employers to invest more in health and well-being in order to combat high levels of sick leave.
High levels of public sector sick leave is estimated to cost the UK taxpayer more than £60 billion a year in benefits and lost tax revenue.
Speaking at a conference of American health experts in Massachusetts, Sir Mansel said work was the most effective way to improve the well-being and happiness of individuals, families and communities.
And he said it was vital that misconceptions are uprooted regarding when individuals are fit to return to work.
The Director of the University's Centre for Psycho-social and Disability Research said, "What the evidence shows is the main determinants of health and illness are lifestyle, socio-cultural, environment and psychological factors rather that the person's 'medical' issue. How people think and feel about their health problems often determines how they deal with them and their impact. The clinical evidence also shows that people's beliefs actually aggravate and perpetuate illness and disability. Psycho-social factors act as the main barrier to a return to work."
It is estimated that about 172 million working days are lost to sickness every year, which the Confederation of British Industry estimates costs the economy more than £13 billion. "We know that long-term worklessness is one of the greatest known risks to public health," Sir Mansel said - with suicide risk increasing and people at greater risk than most dangerous jobs.
"Unfortunately, many people think that you must be off work to recover fully from illness - our challenge is therefore to uproot these misconceptions."
A belief that stress is the causal factor and being in an unstable or single parent relationship are all psychological and personal factors which can contribute to a person continually feeling low he said.
In a survey by the University, negative influences such as fearing the worst, questioning one's ability to succeed and life factors which limit independence, were ranked highest by 38% of people asked about returning to work after sick leave.
This was followed by 32% of people who cited problems in the workplace, and just 7% who cited pain or symptoms of pain as bearing a negative influence on their return to work.
Other negative influences on staff members may include job dissatisfaction, limited attendance incentives and an availability of alternative sources of income.
However, many employers do not have sickness absence policies for handling ill-health or to enable an early and sustained return to work. According to current research, two-thirds of line managers underestimate the proportion of the UK population experienceing mental health problems.
"Many employers are unaware of the business case for investing in health and well-being," Sir Mansel said. "There is a need for more of a multidisciplinary approach from the outset - with health professionals, employers and multidisciplinary services working together to achieve a sustained return to work.
"In particular, line mangers need better training to detect and respond to early signs of ill-heath and protect the physical and mental health of workers. We neeed a radical behavioural and cultural change towards work if we have any real prospect of improving people's well-being and getting people back to work."
In a letter of reponse, The Chairman of TREAT Trust Wales,
Mr. R.M. Davies MA, FRCS, wrote:-
"Your article of 31st August 2011 highlighting the cost of sickness absence to the economy of the United Kingdom is a timely reminder of the hidden expense of ill-health and the urgent need to address means of supporting those suffering from ill-health and of all the sectors of our society underwriting the deficit, whether public or private employers or eventually all of us as taxpayers. It is particularly apposite that this contribution to the health conference in Massachusetts should come from Sir Mansel Aylward, not only Director of Cardiff University's Centre for Psycho-social and Disability Research and Chair of Public Health Wales but also a Patron of TREAT Trust Wales.
A central core of the ethos of TREAT Trust Wales is a commitment to assisting anyone suffering from a life changing event, whether illness or injury or coping with a long-term condition of health impairment, in their quest for social reintegration and rekindling their self-esteem enabling them to return to work with confidence. Friends and family will be encouraged to participate with them and the facilities will be open to the public at large.
TREAT Trust Wales also anticipates being able to assist in the rehabilitation of our injured military personnel returning from current conflicts and especially those being discharged from the armed services as a result of their injuries and no longer eligible for military rehabilitation. Veterans' needs will not be ignored.
We have been allocated a parcel of land by Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board on the Morriston Hospital site to be leased at a peppercorn rent and will need to raise funds to build a world-class rehabilitation and well-being centre on this site. Facilities are to include a warm, ramped swimming pool for easy access without steps or hoists, a fitness suite with integrated equipment and orthodox and alternative therapies including music and arts.
Though this is an ambitious and costly project, extrapolating from Sir Mansel's figures quoted for the cost to the public purse alone, if TREAT Trust Wales were able by its services to reduce Welsh absentee rates by fewer than 2%, then this would pay for the cost of constructing and equipping the building. Annual operating costs would be more than covered.
The public and private employers suffering the losses outlined in your article following Sir Mansel's conference address in the USA and indeed the Welsh Assembly Government would do well to examine the TREAT Trust Wales initiative and consider seriously the benefits of becoming stakeholders in it.
Such a deciision would be not only one of self-interest to the individual groups but potentially one of much greater advantage to the people of Wales as a whole"
R.M. Davies MA, FRCS,
Chairman, TREAT Trust Wales
Treatment Rehabilitation Exercise And Therapy
tel. 07792 540466
Charity Registration no. 1090939