Carl Laidler, Managing Director of Prevent plc looks at Britain’s obsession with wellbeing and the steady creep towards US style workplace health screening.
It is no surprise that levels of neurosis in the UK are increasing when you consider the amount of media coverage dedicated to health. Over the last couple of years you haven’t been able to turn on the television without watching programmes like ‘Celebrity Fit Club’, ‘You Are What You Eat?’ and ‘Fat Nation’ to name but a few.
And it was as if overnight health focused programmes of the noughties replaced the home improvement of the nineties in popularity.
But are we right to be neurotic? Well the term is probably too harsh a word but we definitely should, quite rightly, be very concerned. Government statistics reveal that we will probably live well into our seventies on top of this it appears that the workforce are sitting on a pension time bomb with record numbers of people not saving enough for retirement.
And if we are living longer and working longer it seems obvious that we should be fitter but NHS data reveals that more of us are obese then ever before, we do less exercise, eat more processed meals and have higher blood pressure.
According to the statistics 2.7 million people in the UK have coronary heart disease while one in five, forty year olds will have a critical illness of one type or another, by the time they are 70.
The reality is that today’s employees and employers need to look to the future.
Soaring employment also has its part to play, creating a war for talent and a shortage of vital skills which means that employers will need to start looking to older workers to plug the gap.
So what is the position on workplace health screening? Most people believe it is just a phenomenon of the United States but closer to home, Spain has introduced it as part of legislation and with the Welsh assembly promoting Corporate Health Awards, it probably won’t be long before the government in the UK firm up the Public Health white paper published at the end of last year.
Let’s face it, it is the Government afterall that has the most to gain from the obsession with wellbeing. While they agree that personal screening would reduce long term NHS costs the financial debate is tough. It is a prevention versus cure argument – the benefits of screening maybe not be realized until further down the line when medical intervention is no longer needed.
It is therefore an issue that the government would like to shy away from. Afterall what government is going to increase taxes to pay for the upfront costs, with general elections to survive?
Trying to obtain a health screening (or even get an appointment for that matter) with your local GP can prove very difficult. You probably won’t be able to, and even if you can it won’t be at a time convenient to the employer or employee.
Even the more reticent of HR Directors should be warned that they ignore health screening at their peril.
Why is it then when private hospitals including Bupa and Nuffield conduct thousands of health screenings a year each in excess of £200 do less than 18% of companies offer screening to staff? Surveys reveal that 55% of staff would prefer health screening as an employee benefit so surely employers should be offering screening to at least try to become an employer of choice?
Traditionally the problem has been cost. Health screening has cost in excess of £200, and most companies can only afford or justify screening senior executives and key staff. At these prices, even on a voluntary basis screening costs too much for most employees. However, it would be interesting to know how many people fail to service their car on an annual basis just because for financial reasons.
Health screening need not, however, be expensive. Organisations now exist which offer high quality, affordable health screening from as little as £65, which even on a self-paid or voluntary basis opens up access to those who might not otherwise have the money to pay for it. Employers can also conduct health screening on site at the workplace promoting the importance they place on employee well-being.
Employers should not, however, fuel employees neurosis. Screening people under the age of 45 for illnesses including high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, in the vast majority of cases is going to prove very little. In fact after screening 10,000 workers our data is proof of this.
The key is to offer health screening that includes the standard medical checks but also measures factors including visceral fat, body water percentage, fitness and dysfunctional stress which are key indicators of health and can potentially lead to higher levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose in the future.
Knowing the status of these tests, empowers the participant to improve their health, control weight, increase energy and reduce vulnerability to stress.
The purpose of workplace screening must not be to increase fear and drive more patients down to their local GP, but highlight issues as soon as possible and before symptoms surface.
So, to round off the argument, yes the media, government and individuals are certainly showing signs of neurosis.
Yes, people are probably right to be very concerned and yes, if companies don’t start to look at workplace health screening then employees themselves could be the driving force that helps turn the steady creep into the accepted norm.