The findings of the first ever review into the health of the work age population shows that ill health is costing Britain a huge £100 billion ever year.
The cost is more than the entire annual budget of the NHS and is equivalent to the entire gross domestic product of Portugal.
Dame Carol Black, the director for health and work and publisher of the review Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, is calling for urgent and comprehensive reform and a new approach to health and work in Britain.
Black recommends that doctors’ written sick notes should be replaced with an electronic ‘fit note’, explaining what people are able to do when ill.
She said: “For most people, their work is a key factor in their self-worth, family esteem and identity. So if they become sick and are not helped quickly enough, they can all too easily find themselves on a downward spiral into long-term sickness and a life on benefits.
“This is not only devastating for them, but also for their families. Their children suffer financially, emotionally and it can affect their long-term futures.
“The aim of my review is not to offer a utopian solution for improved health in working life, but to identify factors that stand in the way and offer potential solutions.”
Black spells out the key challenges in the review, which include insufficient access to good work-related health support in the early stages of sickness, including mental health conditions.
According to the report, provision is currently disproportionately concentrated among a few large employers, leaving the vast majority of small employers without support.