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11 Apr 2024
by Dr Subashini M.

Expert view: Workplaces should make bold choices today for a healthier tomorrow

Aviva UK’s medical director, Dr Suba M, outlines the societal health risks facing employers and why they must look beyond the traditional benefit suite to deliver equitable and enduring health outcomes

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Employers are in a perfect storm, facing into the convergence of several trends - ageing populations, evolving nature of the workplace, pressure on healthcare systems, and widening health inequalities. 

Against this backdrop, there is a deeper issue that we need to be mindful of – how these trends could manifest as health risks in the workforce.  

The population is getting older and life expectancy in the UK is expected to reach 83.1 years in 2040, according to the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre report.  

However, our health span is not expected to increase. This means that we are likely to only be with no or some illness until our 70s.  

According to the Working Age Health Challenge report in November 2023, almost 35% of the working age population have longterm health conditions and nearly 20% have work-limiting health conditions. 

A key concern is that work-limiting health conditions are not experienced equally across all demographics - 22% of working-age women report having a work-limiting condition, compared with 17% of men.  

The prevalence of work-limiting health conditions is consistently higher among people with lower education attainment, especially those without a university degree or equivalent.  

During REBA’s Future of Workplace Health & Protection Summit 2024, two areas that piqued interest and concern among the attendees were mental health and cancer.  
The proportion of younger workers (age 16 to 34) reporting work-limiting mental health conditions has nearly quadrupled, and it is estimated that one in six adults have experienced a common mental health disorder in the past week, according to NHS England statistics.   

This is likely to increase as the prevalence of mental health conditions in young people has risen by 12% in 2023 when compared to 2017. 

When we look at cancer care, Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that 5.3 million people will be living with cancer in 2040. 

While it’s positive that the prognosis is improving for people with many types of cancer, the cost of providing cancer care through employers’ health insurance is increasing significantly.  

Reassuringly, there are solutions to help address these challenges- empowering personalised prevention, proactive approach to workforce wellbeing, implementing value-based healthcare and by drawing upon resources including private healthcare, group income protection, EAP, flexible benefits, apprenticeship schemes, employee resource groups to name a few. 

However, we should avoid equating mitigating health risks with containment of the cost of illness. 

It is a folly to not consider the bigger picture and explore how an employer can influence the social determinants of health.  

Factors that firmly sit in employers’ control such as access to good working conditions, training and education, and community networks all contribute to an individual’s health.  

It certainly is time for employers to expand beyond the traditional benefit suite to challenge themselves to deliver effective, efficient, equitable and enduring health outcomes for their people

After a day of deliberations fuelled by fantastic panels at REBA’s Future of Workplace Health & Protection Summit, delegates left the day with a sense of urgency and hope.  

We must believe that better is possible and it is our duty to be willing to try to make bold choices today for a better tomorrow.


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