Nation’s health ‘at risk’ in economic downturn

The economic downturn could have an adverse effect on the nation’s health by forcing people to work through illness and cut back on health spending, research suggests.

A report by cash plan provider HSA found that 42% of people would be less likely to take time off for illness in an economic slowdown and 21% would feel less inclined to act on lingering and background health issues. Separate research by private medical insurer AXA PPP healthcare found that in the past six months alone, 66% of working people have gone to work despite feeling so ill they could legitimately stay at home.

When asked why they worked through illness, 29% of the respondents to AXA PPP’s survey said they did not want to let down their colleagues, 24% said they had too much work to do and 15% said they were worried their sick leave records could be used against them if their employer had to make people redundant.

Dudley Lusted, head of corporate health development, AXA PPP said it is wrong to subject hard working people to “over zealous” absence management methods: “Smart employers will make sure their managers are properly trained and supported to manage attendance positively and, when people are off work sick, concentrate on managing those employees whose attendance should give genuine cause for concern, whether it’s frequent absence takers (often referred to as skivers) – for whom there will probably be conduct issues – or people with medical conditions that put them at risk of being off long-term sick.”

The credit crunch is also likely to result in significant cuts in personal healthcare spending. A report by Friends Provident and the Blood Pressure Association found that 56% of people are buying cheaper food as a cost cutting measure, 15% have cut spending on fresh fruit and vegetables, and 21% have cut back on gym use. In addition, 27% of people are worrying more, 19% are sleeping less and 15% are working longer hours as a result of economic pressures.

More positively, it appears that companies do not have plans to cut back on their healthcare benefits provision. HSA’s survey of HR professionals found that 59% are not looking to alter the amount they spend on healthcare provision, while 15% predict an increase in the amount they spend next year and 13% predict a decrease.

Glenn Rhodes, HSA’s head of marketing, said: “Our report has revealed that most companies are not planning to spend less, and some actually plan to spend more. However, it is apparent that companies are under pressure to scrutinise the healthcare benefits they offer and to invest in those schemes which offer the best value, combined with visible results.”

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