Health and wellbeing providers gear up for swine flu

Health and wellbeing providers are gearing up for increased demand caused by swine flu, following government warnings that there could be 100,000 new cases of swine flu each day by the end of August. Furthermore, figures from absence management company FirstCare says employees infected with the virus are taking an average of 4.3 days off work, which it predicts will cost UK businesses £8.6billion in total.

Employers and their staff are sure to come under strain, drawing on health and wellbeing provisions more, so providers will need to be ready for increased activity.

David Smith, secretary at the EAPA, believes employee assistance programme (EAP) providers are fully equipped to deal with the extra demand. “The calls could range from someone with mild symptoms to someone dealing with the loss of someone from the virus. Others might need access to childcare if schools are closed,” he said.

“EAP providers all have robust contingency plans in place to cover pandemics and disasters. For example, one leading supplier has its phones linked to the US so if no one can pick in the UK, the call still gets answered.”

Absence management firm FirstAssist has launched a swine flu absence recording service to assist employers. The system will record the details of such absences but can also help identify trends across business units and locations, and review the operational impact of the virus to help employers’ contingency planning.

Mandy Rutter, clinical manager at Axa Icas, says the psychological effects of the disease will also impact on employers. “We have produced one-page information sheets on how to maintain a calm approach to managing the situation despite all the bad news and panic.

“We are going directly to our clients and believe we must be proactive. But it can only be generic information so we are encouraging businesses to come to us for help with their own specific needs.”

For many healthcare providers, ensuring the right advice is offered may be tricky as the swine flu situation continues to develop. Dr Jenny Leeser, clinical director occupational health at Bupa, said: “As a provider, we have to remain flexible as you cannot predict what the virus is going to do next.”

There has also been some confusion over what claims are valid under a private medical insurance scheme. Dr Rebecca Small, assistant medical director at Bupa Heath Insurance, said: “[Our] customers are covered for treatment of swine flu, including antiviral medication and Tamiflu, in hospital if they are referred by their GP. Customers are covered for outpatient and inpatient treatment of swine flu by a consultant if they are referred by their GP.”