Claire Timmins: How can employers use healthcare benefits to ease the NHS backlog?


We are all aware that the pandemic, combined with workforce shortages, has created a mounting healthcare backlog. There are a number of ways that employers, as well as individuals and government, can work alongside the NHS to help ease and alleviate the pressure faced. In this way health becomes everyone’s business.

Many employers agree that there is a link between work and the health of their employees. Employers who invest in the health and wellbeing of their workforce benefit from reduced absence, increased productivity and improved employee retention. Employees benefit from a supportive environment in which they can thrive and perform at their best.

Employer health and wellbeing programmes can include both preventative and reactive interventions and cover physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing. Preventative health interventions focus on addressing individual behaviour change and can include programmes to encourage healthy eating, physical exercise, smoking cessation and stress management.

Activities don’t have to cost a lot of money and can act as ‘work culture-enhancers’; in the post-Covid (Coronavirus) work environment this could be creating opportunities for employees to re-connect and come together in real life to take part in a wellbeing activity. Introducing elements of gamification can increase employee participation and engagement while making mundane tasks more fun and interactive.

More reactive health interventions include private medical insurance (PMI) and employee assistance programmes (EAPs), a service for employees to access help with personal or workplace issues that might be impacting their performance, wellbeing mental or physical health. These types of benefits have evolved over recent years, with a number of add-ons being introduced by providers.

For example, PMI extending to also offer a digital doctor service, thereby enabling employees to access a broader range of medical treatment privately, avoiding GP appointment waiting times and NHS waiting lists. What’s important here is that employers offer healthcare benefits that are appreciated by employees, so they help reward and retain talent.

It is important to ensure that healthcare benefits are available to everyone in an organisation, that all employees are made aware of the benefits through effective communications and that all employees are considered during the design of the intervention.

If employee groups are excluded, possibly for cost reasons, it will mean that healthcare benefits are not inclusive and can lead to (further) health inequality.

There is one thing that all employers can focus on which will have a positive impact on employee health. This is the focus on creating good work. There is clear evidence that good work with a purpose improves health and wellbeing across people’s lives, boosting quality of life and protecting against social exclusion.

Good work means the job is safe and secure, with good working hours and conditions, supportive management and opportunities for training and development and the employee feels there is a purpose. This focus can apply to all jobs in an organisation and should be at the top of every HR team’s agenda.

Claire Timmins is HR director, UK and Ireland, at Ipsos