Articles, Dentistry

Time for a healthcheck?

Short-term absence may cause a hiccup in the day-to-day running of your practice but, in the long-term, it can have a larger, costlier impact on your business.

The latest government statistics reveal that, on average, as many as 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year between October 2010 and September 2013 (Department for Work & Pensions, 2014). With more than 130 million days lost to sickness absence every year, this is impacting on the economy to the tune of £100 billion a year. Health and wellbeing benefits can be part of a long-term strategy to improve the productivity and health of staff, with many companies investing in healthcare plans and private medical insurance as part of its absence management strategy. While many practices can plug the gaps in workforce for the odd day of staff sickness, investments such as these could be key in supporting the wellbeing of your staff and the future success of your business.

In April 2012, the Office for National Statistics (2012) reported that in 2011, although minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu were the most common reasons given for short bouts of sick days, the greatest number of working days was lost through musculoskeletal problems. 

While The Chartered Management Institute (2012) has, in the past, recognised that many factors from genetics to the external environment can cause or trigger ill health, it has also acknowledged that numerous health conditions can be caused or exacerbated by the workplace, such as stress, accounting for one in three new incidents of ill health at work.

Dentists’ Provident 2013 statistics of claims paid, support that musculoskeletal disorders and stress are areas for health concern, specifically for dentists as well due to the physically and mentally demanding nature of the job. They showed that, for both men and women, more than one-third of the claims paid were for musculoskeletal disorders and approximately one-sixth related to psychiatric disorders.

New results

In January last year, the government minister for welfare reform, Lord Freud announced (Department of Work & Pensions, 2013) that British businesses would be helped to tackle long-term sickness absence in the workplace, thanks to a new independent assessment and advisory service aimed at getting people back to work and away from long-term sickness benefits. Previously, only 10% of employees from small companies had access to an occupational health service, compared with more than half of staff in larger companies. The service would enable employers of all sizes to access expert advice to help manage sickness absence in the workplace. This initiative aimed to ensure employers received bespoke, independent advice for cases of sickness absence lasting more than four weeks.

New audit results at the Health and Work Development Unit at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) (Sloan et al, 2014) found in January this year that only 57% of NHS trusts had mental wellbeing policies in place to support staff. The report, Implementing NICE public health guidance for the workplace round 2, expressed concern that nearly a quarter of NHS trusts (24%) do not monitor its staff’s mental wellbeing at all. The report also noted that 115 trusts are supporting its 562,723 staff with organisation-wide plans or policies on health and wellbeing, up from 275,421 staff across 70 trusts in 2010.

Nurturing good health

The Chartered Management Institute’s (2012) Healthy Workforce – Guidance for Managers acknowledges that there is some evidence to show that, where particular health benefits are offered, absence levels are lowered. These benefits included nutritional advice, health/fitness coaching, private healthcare insurance, health screenings and healthy eating facilities. Other initiatives mentioned included coaching services, counselling services, ergonomics advice, flexible work options and personal evaluation of health risks. In summary, it concluded that: ‘A healthier workforce means employees are more motivated and productive, have higher attendance levels and return to work more quickly after episodes of
ill health.’ 

In Dame Carol Black’s review (Advisor on work and health at the Department of Health) of the health of Britain’s working age population (2008), many respondents stated that the benefits of investing in the health of staff outweighed the costs. Specific interventions described as cost effective included: general investment in health and wellbeing, the provision of occupational health services, the use of rehabilitation and/or a case management approach and offering counselling. 

Developing this to suit your practice team could simply mean offering support for local fitness classes or regular wellbeing advice. Having practical policies, information and support available could reduce the sick leave taken by an individual member of staff and, in some cases, encourage staff motivation and loyalty.

Your health first

You should consider your own financial and personal health protection and prevention, should sickness or injury affect you, and this is easy to overlook when you are busy, tied up with the day-to-day of running a practice or managing a team.

Bryan Gross, head of claims and underwriting at Dentists’ Provident, supports this saying: ‘In our experience, dentists who are unable to work due to illness or injury are keen to return to work as soon as possible. So our claims team support this by building relationships with our members and having an ongoing dialogue with them, to discuss their progress and chat through how their treatment or recovery is progressing. If a member expresses a desire to return to work, then we work with them to see how we can help them with this, including assisting them to get the best out of their care plan.’

For a list of references please contact seb.evans@fmc.co.uk.

For further information about Dentists’ Provident please visit www.dentistsprovident.co.uk, phone 020 7400 5700 (Dentists' Provident may monitor calls to improve its service) or email memberservices@dentistsprovident.co.uk. Dentists’ Provident, 91-94 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QP.

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