Dr Sabrina Robinson: How can employers use healthcare benefits to ease the NHS backlog?

We are extremely fortunate within the UK to have access to the excellent healthcare provided by the NHS, which is of course free at the point of delivery and has a wide range of skilled professionals who do a fantastic job.

However, it is evident that health services have faced months of growing demand and a rising backlog caused by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, in a system that was already experiencing challenges. All of which has led to immense pressure and increased waiting times.

Given that, there is plenty employers can do to support the wellbeing of their workforce and such benefits can and often do mean employees are less reliant on healthcare services, particularly when it comes to primary care.

At Essex County Council we have a wide range of health and wellbeing-specific benefits for our employees, including an employee assistance programme and occupational health provision, a wider wellbeing offer, eye care vouchers and private health and dental care plans at corporate rates, among others.

We strive to take a more preventative approach to wellbeing, including focusing on improving health literacy and encouraging positive health behaviour change.

It is clear to us that early and sustained support from employers can help employees to better manage their health and wellbeing, be less reliant on formal healthcare and successfully navigate a wide range of wellbeing support dependent on their needs, including that provided by our healthcare system.

As a local authority, we are fortunate to have a range of partnerships with our health partners, which we can utilise to support our own employees whilst also supporting the wider system.

Most recently, this has included working with our community pharmacy partners to provide flu vaccinations to employees who were not eligible for a free NHS vaccination, so helping to reduce flu transmission in the community and alleviating pressure on health and social care services during the winter.

We have plans to build our existing offer further, with better support around specific areas such as mental health, menopause and ‘everyday health’ behaviours, all the while continuing to support emerging needs and giving choice.

Of course, it is not just about benefits alone; a good work environment within an organisation – one where people feel they are supported to thrive in all areas of life – is generally good for our overall wellbeing. We all have a role to play in supporting the wellbeing of our community and supporting our healthcare system.

Dr Sabrina Robinson is wellbeing lead – people and transformation at Essex County Council