Sunday, 23 October 2011

Commerce has its part to play in keeping NHS costs down.

It is widely recognised that the biggest challenges facing the NHS are rising costs of medical innovations and care, and the ticking time bomb of a nation making unhealthy lifestyle choices. The population will live longer but in a less healthy state, due to increased incidence of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, linked to inactivity, bad lifestyle habits and obesity.

As we all know, these challenges provide the context of the NHS reforms proposed by the UK Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley and Public Health initiatives are key to the future viability of state funded healthcare.

This is where commerce and industry comes in. Employers face the same conundrum as NHS leaders - how can they keep their target population healthy, and reduce the costs of healthcare to their organisation. The costs to commerce include the effect of medical inflation on health insurance claims and premiums for their insured employees, the economic burden of illness-related absence affecting all staff and the impact of presenteeism, where an unwell employee stays at their desk often due to insecurity or work pressure.

This is a good reason to keep a close eye on the US health system. President Obama’s healthcare reform, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPCA) puts the onus of health care costs for employees and their dependants squarely onto the shoulders of employers. Already motivated to keep their staff healthy for altruistic and economic reasons, this additional burden has certainly focussed employers’ minds on creating a healthy workforce with the aim of reduction in costs and increased productivity.

Motivating leaders to invest in wellness programmes and incentivising employees to adapt their behaviours is a high priority for all forward thinking organisations both sides of the Atlantic. I am attending the US Corporate Wellness Conference in Chicago next week to monitor the views and opinions of those tasked to tackle this major issue. The theme this year is ‘Progress in motion – creating a healthy culture’.  Sharing of this knowledge between companies and continents is crucial in bringing some control to the accelerating juggernaut of health inflation and a generation of individuals with destructive lifestyle behaviours.

In the US, companies are obliged to address healthcare costs thanks to the PPCA. In the UK, there are very good socio-economic reasons to do the same. Most successful workplace healthcare initiatives can be mirrored by public health leaders for the population at large. And every penny spent on improving health in the workplace will either indirectly or directly have a positive impact on savings for the NHS and the wellbeing of the nation as a whole.


Post a Comment