"We have almost a tsunami of patients coming to us - it feels like the river has flooded the banks.”
These words were reported by the BBC last month, and were said by a General Practitioner (GP) in Doncaster. And, with NHS England reporting an almost record high of GP appointments booked in March alone, it is likely that this one family doctor is far from alone in being overwhelmed.
Of course a backlog of patients awaiting initial diagnosis and signposting to treatment pathways is anything but surprising.
For not only are there more than a years’ worth of cancelled and missed appointments across all sectors of UK society to be rescheduled in the months ahead, but we also have a wave of new medical issues to face too. Long Covid is of course a major challenge to be addressed, and then there is a rising tide of mental health problems accumulated over many long months of fear and isolation to be resolved as well.
A gateway to treatment
Yet the truth is that an initial visit to the local GP is often just the entry point to the national healthcare system.
Should the condition or illness require further investigation or treatment then the patient will usually be referred-on to another specialist area, and with waiting lists across the NHS now representing huge numbers of people – and indeed record highs in some areas – it is unlikely that patients will be treated as quickly as they (or indeed the health service itself) would ideally like.
The impact on employers
And of course all of the above is likely to represent another unwanted headwind to employers, and this at a time when so many organisations are desperate to return their businesses to pre-pandemic normality and profitability.
The reality is many of the people now seeking or awaiting medical treatment will be from the working-age population, and at least some of this grouping may be unable to work until the end of their treatment. And even where attendance at work can be maintained, it’s possible that the employee’s output and productivity might well be reduced until treatment is concluded.
Some simple steps
So we would once again encourage employers to take some simple steps to better support their workers whilst also limiting the potential negative impact of absence or reduced productivity too.
In particular we would suggest that employers seek to identify which employees may already be facing medical issues and/or delays for treatment, and then aim to support those individuals by actively signposting them towards any support options already available within the employer-sponsored benefits and wellbeing offering.
But it would also be a good time to remind all employees of the full range of support tools that may be available to them. Often overlooked options include remote GP appointments and Employee Assistance Plans, although Howden has recently identified more than 50 different wellbeing services that might be available to employees depending on the “core” Employee Benefit offerings provided by the employer.
And finally employers should try and extend those vitally important core benefits – typically life cover, income protection, medical insurance, and pension provision – to all grades of staff to ensure that the same support tools and protections are available to all workers.
The reality is that a tsunami of undiagnosed and untreated conditions may well be facing the UK in the months and years ahead, and this will doubtless have a knock-on effect to employees and their employers too. So it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that all the employee benefits tools provided are well understood and used during the potentially challenging period ahead.
For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.
Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.