Ailing UK nation needs employer to step in where NHS can’t, agrees panel

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The UK is suffering from a productivity crisis, thanks in part to worsening physical and mental health among its workforce, Professor Dame Carol Black, Chair of the Centre for Ageing Better said at London’s Watercooler conference last month.

She pointed to a slowing of life expectancy and a record rise in long term sickness absence. “Poor health is detracting from economic growth and wellbeing,” said the former independent government adviser. “We are becoming an unfit society, we are obese, we are not active. Mental health issues are increasing.”

Employers have a role in changing this culture and they need to build workplaces which support good health, agreed a former health minister.

Lord James Bethell, joining the panel discussion on 25 April, said: “The NHS can’t [do everything]. Employers have a role to play,” he said. “It would help the NHS so much. It’s a sickness service, it can’t do that much.”

Employers need to build workplaces which support good health. Photograph: iStock

Technology is going to offer a big opportunity for employers to facilitate early treatment of disease and diagnostics, said John Godfrey, Levelling Up Director at Legal & General and Chair of Business for Health.

“We will be able to diagnose cancer much earlier,” he said. Science is also looking at how genetics profiling can help inform what exercise to do or food to eat to prolong life and health. “Employers are going to have to have a big voice in that. It will be a conversation between the employer and their employees about how they are going to use this technology. It’s worth bracing ourselves for that.”

Black said that we have become more comfortable with promoting and discussing health since the pandemic, which was a positive. “Occupational health was needed in Covid, we needed the risks managed and explained. Managers have also had to become more people centric – that’s a positive change.”

The speakers joined the panel session: The Role of Employers in Enhancing and Levelling up the Health of the Nation at the Watercooler conference at London's ExCel 



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