The countries lag behind other nations including Poland, France and Romania in this regard, according to a report written by the Work Foundation for the Fit for Work Europe coalition.

It is estimated that the UK loses over 35 million working days every year as a result of ill health.

The new report notes that an extra 60,000 employees in the UK and one million more people across the EU could be at work if there was better access to treatment for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs are the leading cause of sickness absence in the EU, with some 44 million workers suffering from complaints such as back pain and strains of the neck, shoulder and arms.

As a result, European companies are being hit with collective costs of up to €240 billion (£203.4 billion) – or two per cent of EU gross domestic product – because of lost productivity and time off.

With many member states set to see half their population diagnosed with an MSD by 2030, the Fit for Work Europe coalition warned that this is a growing problem requiring urgent attention.

Stephen Bevan, founding president of the group and director at the Work Foundation, said: "Our analysis now shows that, because access to early healthcare interventions for workers with MSDs are not being prioritised, thousands are taking unnecessarily long periods away from work or even leaving work permanently when tried and tested tactics could be helping to speed up their recovery and return to work."

The report highlighted the example of a two-year trial of early intervention strategies for MSDs in Madrid, Spain, which succeeded in reducing temporary work absence by 39 per cent.

In a statement posted on the Work Foundation website last month, Professor Bevan called for the link between regular work and good health to be put at the heart of efforts to reduce long-term unemployment.

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