Minor Issue / Major Problem?



01 July 2020

National Health Service (NHS) waiting lists were already growing prior to the arrival of COVID19 in the UK, and the pandemic has simply added-to and amplified those existing issues.

Of course the continuing presence of the virus also means that the NHS is not yet able to return to a pre-crisis footing.  Many hospitals continue to divide space between dedicated COVID19 areas and other wards for the more usual conditions and illnesses, and all sites need to meet the challenges of providing a healthcare service in a socially-distanced manner too.  Add to this the huge number of routine and/or less urgent appointments already postponed in 2020 (and which must now be rescheduled) and it is clear that the system will be at - or possibly beyond - capacity for many months to come. 

So it should come as no particular surprise to anyone that the national media headlines last month warned that the NHS waiting list is set to hit 10 million by the end of 2020.

The impact on business

Now on the face of it this might seem like just another personal-health-related media story, and indeed it will be those awaiting treatment that are rightly the most immediately concerned by this development. 

But in practice this issue will also represent some very real challenges to employers too.  And this at a time when many organisations are striving to return to full productivity just as quickly as the easing of lockdown restrictions allow.

The problem here is that the treatments which may now have the longest waiting lists are likely to be those conditions considered the more routine and non-urgent by the national healthcare system.  Yet a non-life-threatening condition usually remains extremely problematical to the individual patient who is experiencing and coping with that issue.  At best such minor conditions might limit some of the individual’s daily routines or output, at worst they could be serious enough to involve periods of absence from the workplace. 

Questions for the employer?

Of course either outcome represents a potentially major problem for employers too.  Questions that an employer might need to consider include;

  • What impact will the condition have on the worker’s productivity?
  • Are there any adjustments or alterations which can be made to help the situation?
  • When will a return to work be possible?
  • Is temporary cover needed (and can it be afforded)?
  • How long can the employer afford to support the absent employee’s salary?

Any or all of the above are potentially significant challenges for employers at any time, but never more so than in Post-COVID19 Britain.

Use your Employee Benefits

There are no easy answers to most of the above challenges, but employers can and should ensure that they throw everything within their Employee Benefits armoury towards solving – or at the very least mitigating – the problem in every individual occurrence.

Remote GP access tools will help avoid any unnecessary delays in early diagnosis.  Occupational Health and Early Intervention Services (often provided free with Group Income Protection plans) can help assess the situation and provide a road-map for an early return to the workplace where possible.  And Employee Assistance Plans can provide valuable free advice to steer employees towards appropriate solutions and planning too.

Tools such as Private Medical Insurance and Health Cash Plans should speed access to healthcare solutions and treatments, hopefully avoiding the worst of the NHS waiting lists in the process. 

And, should the illness be one that might result in an absence from the workplace for a period of months or years, then the provision of Group Income Protection policies will provide some certainty of income to the worker, whilst also enabling the employer to look at alternative options to cover the absent employee’s workload with less concern around the costs of doing so.

Most good employers will have at least some of the above Employee Benefits on offer to their workers. So it’s important that all the available elements are used and promoted whenever possible.

Don’t forget the importance of ALL workers

Finally, and not least, it’s worth revisiting a central message in my recent post; “From Key-person to Key-worker”.

The reality is that every employee represents an important cog in the corporate machine, even if that role sometimes goes largely unnoticed.  The loss of any one such cog – even if only for a few weeks or months – can really impact productivity, and this at a time when employers need to maximise the output of each worker, and indeed their wider organisation too. 

So it follows that businesses need to look after their workers and make sure the Employee Benefits on offer are regularly promoted, easily accessible, and above all used when needed.  For some this might just be revisiting what they already offer, for others it might be a case of levelling-up their benefits offering to support more workers and the wider business too. 

Either way, it’s clear that a good benefits package will be a very useful tool for employers as they look to bounce-back in the wake of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.


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 Howden’s coronavirus hub.

(Published 01/07/20)

Steve Herbert

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.

Steve Herbert

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