The government is in the throes of enabling doctors’ surgeries to open seven days a week in response to employee complaints about the difficulty of getting a doctor’s appointment outside work hours.
The Department of Health is ringfencing £50 million to support surgeries that want to extend their working hours, which is an ambitious, some might say foolish, move given the £20 billion worth of savings the NHS has been tasked with making by 2015.
And where will the extra doctors come from to cover these extended hours?
A more realistic approach would be for the government to work more closely with employers to help them optimise their employees’ health as part of a more preventative approach to healthcare. Tax breaks to incentivise employers’ efforts would, in an ideal world, also help to achieve this.
A number of employers have already established a comprehensive health and wellbeing programme to support their workforce, recognising their responsibility in addressing the increasing shortfall in NHS service provision and the potential impact of this shortfall on their organisation’s sickness absence costs.
Take Serco, which has been working hard to support staff affected by cancer by negotiating more flexible terms with its group income protection provider, Unum, to help employees return to work.
But insurance products are not the only tools with which employers can help support employees’ health.
Dell, for example, has created an effective peer-to-peer recognition programme that involves employees joining together to take part in sports and social clubs and sharing their experiences and success stories through social networks and online blogs.
Whatever healthcare benefits an employer selects, education must be at the heart of all health and wellbeing strategies, not least to help dispel the countless myths surrounding nutrition.
The myth that smoothies are a health drink is a case in point, as is the assumption that being overweight means an individual is unfit.
Trial and effort
But education should not stop at strategy content: employers must also undertake their own learning process in terms of healthcare strategy design, which may involve some trial and error because they will not always get it right.
This is because of the growing diversity of employees’ health issues, particularly with diseases such as cancer in its various forms, which often makes it difficult for employers to understand the support staff need to either do their job or to return to work, during or after treatment.
With a battle for talent expected in 2014, employers with ambitious growth plans will have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to employee health and wellbeing and recognise its place on the corporate and social responsibility agenda. Paying lipservice to employee health and wellbeing is not enough.
Read the full digital edition of the Health and Wellbeing supplement.