Employee Benefits

Are we all losing in the big NHS waiting game?

After two years of isolation, testing, lockdowns, and face masks; everyone seems to be grateful that we are finally learning to live with COVID-19. Since March 2020, the virus has been all over the daily news, social media feeds, and the hot topic of conversation in the world around us. Now though, with a large number of vaccinated people, and others who have built their own immunity from having the illness; it seems there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

COVID-19 has not only caused loss, illness, and fear; it is also responsible for many other problems that have come about as a sort of butterfly effect due to its devastating impact on the world.

Perhaps the most catastrophic impact the pandemic has had in the United Kingdom is on our much-loved NHS. Patients are having to wait longer than ever before not just for care and appointments with their GP for new diagnosis; but notably for ongoing treatments for existing conditions and diseases like cancer and diabetes.

If there could ever be a positive to be taken from the last two years, the wider understanding and appreciation around the importance of mental health has never been greater. Perhaps we have at last shaken off any lingering stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. However, sitting on any NHS waiting list is bound to have an impact on both the physical and mental wellbeing of pretty much anyone.

For non-urgent, consultant-led treatments, the NHS aims to see patients within 18 weeks of a referral [2], however, of the 5.8 million patients waiting to start treatment in September 2021, approximately 300,000 had been waiting for more than a year [1]. Considering that the NHS aims to see patients within 18 weeks of a referral[2], this gives a clear indication of the strain on services, and the pressure on doctors and nurses to try to catch up and minimise the longevity of the backlog. Having to prioritise the most sick or at-risk patients, without neglecting people who need urgent care now has likely put terrible mental strain on NHS staff, and it is clear to see why they quickly became the ‘heroes’ throughout the global pandemic.

The “clap for carers” every Thursday night expressed the undeniable appreciation we have for those individuals risking their lives to help combat the crisis, and the way we were all willing to come together in uncertain times.

But is there a way that employers can help ease the strain?

Prevention is better than cure, and this has resonated with many in our society in order to combat illnesses that have progressed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether this is due to physical factors, such as not being able to access a gym, or even just going for a walk with a friend when lockdown restrictions were at its peak; or due to mental health factors, such as not seeing colleagues on a day to day basis, and not being able to go for lunch or shopping with a friend. Before Covid-19, it would seem fair to say that we generally took such activities for granted in our lives and the pandemic either made us appreciate this more or just simply put a stop to our normal routines. Either way, we have all had to adapt to a new way of life.

When looking at statistics, prior to the pandemic in February 2020 there were already 4.43 million people on a waiting list for care, which shows the strain the NHS already faced without the addition of an unforeseen, ever-evolving virus.  The latest figures for January 2022 show a record of almost 6 million people waiting for treatment.[3] This is likely because individuals who would have normally requested a consultation with a doctor would have adhered to the government’s “stay at home” orders during the pandemic – due to a combination of fear, wanting to do the right thing and sheer compliance. Therefore, whilst GPs are now able to see patients, many people will be facing long delays and services are far from normal. This is not a poor reflection on the NHS – it just highlights how overwhelmed they have been, and their need for more staff, more resources and – although impossible – more time.

Since the lockdown restrictions have eased, one way around the delay is by accessing care at a private practice, which we have seen accelerate recently through virtual GPs in conjunction with more detailed health screenings.

These options play an important role in helping access alternative pathways to diagnosis and/or treatment, and perhaps make way for those on NHS waiting lists that do not have the means to take up these alternatives. Health assessments provide peace of mind by offering reassurance and active guidance on how to adapt your lifestyle, whether that be amending your diet, reducing alcohol consumption, or increasing exercise. Small daily changes can make a huge difference. This is where offering a health and wellbeing programme that is part of an employee benefits offering is so valuable. Ensuring your workforce is happy and healthy means they will be more present, and help prevent absenteeism, which ultimately impact efficiency and productivity.

Healthcare plans are becoming increasingly popular with all demographics within the workplace, as more and more people look beyond the basic monetary value of their salary and avert their focus instead to the full benefits package on offer. Sounds expensive, right? Actually no. The world of employee benefits is constantly evolving, and increasingly more benefits can be offered within a given budget, no matter the size of a workforce.

The reality of implementing such programs can sometimes feel more difficult than they should. This is where Broadstone comes in – we have experienced health and wellbeing consultants available to help with designing and implementing a health and wellbeing strategy for businesses of all sizes, sectors, and needs. Analysing specific problems that you are currently experiencing whilst looking at ways to remove future risks should be centre to your decision-making. The good news is that with more data insight, this thought leadership has never been more accessible.

The number of options available are plentiful, and with some understanding of your needs, we can put a program together that will be engaging and rewarding for your employees, as well as reaping benefits for you as an employer and fitting in with any budgets and aims you may have.

If you would like more information on how we can help, and how health care benefits really will help with the current NHS strain; whether it’s starting a new scheme, or you would like a free audit of your existing scheme, simply get in touch with us.

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/11/RTT-statistical-press-notice-Sep21-PDF-424K-87244.pdf

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/hospitals/guide-to-nhs-waiting-times-in-england/

[3] https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/pressures/nhs-backlog-data-analysis