Health screening: Sponsor’s comment: Prevention must be the priority

Advanced technologies can help to identify staff health issues at an earlier stage, says Valerie Phillips, head of business at Randox Health Checks

The UK economy lost over 190 million working days last year due to absence, costing over £17 billion, according to the Confederation of Business Industry/Pfizer absence and workplace health survey 2011. This does not include the indirect costs of lost productivity and customer dissatisfaction. Employers are increasingly aware of the burden and expense of sick leave, which underlines the importance of safeguarding health and wellbeing. Prevention is more effective than cure and health screening is recognised as one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding long-term absence.

Stress at work, leading to long-term absence, has more than doubled since the 1990s, with an estimated 500,000 suffering from work-related stress in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions Research report 751: Health and wellbeing at work: a survey of employees, published in July 2011, revealed that only a third of employees received any support to manage workplace stress. Consequently, organisations must now consider employees’ mental health when it comes to healthcare benefits and implementing preventative measures.

Employers need to adopt a new approach focusing on bridging the gap between health strategy and measureable improvement if they are to lessen the impact of health issues on performance and profitability. New technology is
enabling medicine to move in this direction as the latest diagnostic screening can help identify a workforce’s current and future healthcare needs.

If an employer can provide an accessible and compelling programme to engage employees with preventative measures, both parties stand to benefit. Organisations can empower their staff to take their health into their own hands with onsite screening, which offers detailed data on the health of the workforce as a whole. This allows
organisations to build the commercial case for health strategies, through reducing absenteeism and understanding where to focus resources.

Stress is recognised as a major source of sickness absence and more employers are adopting strategies to combat stress, such as counselling, employee assistance programmes and work-life balance policies. Reactions to stress
vary from individual to individual, which is why it is a difficult area to manage effectively without a degree of subjective judgement. It is a little known fact that stress is measurable from a scientific point of view. It is an illness and can be measured, quantified and contextualised using biochemical markers.

Randox Health Checks’ stress test measures cytokines and growth factors after a joint study with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm of 287 patients (male and female) who were off work on long-term leave due to stress, found elevated levels of these biomarkers in patients on sick leave for any stress-related disorder, having been
diagnosed by trained physicians.

Dame Carol Black’s 2008 Review of the health of Britain’s working age population revolutionised the way employers viewed the health of their staff. Now focusing on fitness, nutrition, exercise and mental wellbeing, employers have realised the need to encourage their staff to change their lifestyle before diseases appear. Forward thinking companies are starting to adopt wellness charters to reflect an interest in all aspects of health with on-site care.

Another development is concentrating on what happens between screenings and making serial screening an option. Smart strategies acknowledge one size does not fit all. Screening packages are most effective when tailored to the demographics and needs of the workforce.

By adopting health screening that offers both physical and mental assessments, as well as data points for monitoring the general health status of the workforce, employers can focus on prevention rather than relying on intervention.

Read more from the health screening roundtable discussion