In Focus: Occupational health

The effect of the recession on occupational health is difficult to assess, but Edmund Tirbutt finds that there is plenty going on in the sector

Measuring the resilience of occupational health (OH) to recession is certainly not the easiest task. Like is rarely being compared with like in a field that can include literally anything relevant to the impact of health on work and of work on health. But MBD’s latest UK OH Market Development report – which is the most widely recognised relevant objective research – believes that OH provision increased by 5% during 2009 (see on page 33).

Feedback from the major providers does little to contradict this suggestion, with the majority referring to at least a degree of growth, despite emphasising that clients are increasingly looking for seamless integrated services and for proof that they are obtaining value for money. Few companies are reported to actually be cancelling OH contracts although some are now trying to trim outgoings by, for example, having health screenings every two or three years as opposed to annually.

Such economies, however, are being offset for external providers by the odd company closing its in-house OH department and outsourcing instead. Furthermore, others with in-house OH departments are testing the water by seeking quotes from external providers to see whether switching is likely to be cost-effective.

Shining brightest of all among the OH providers has been Health Management, which volunteers a staggering 51% growth rate for 2009. Having established new operational teams in Manchester and Birmingham, it now has some 30 clinics across the UK and looks after one million employees.

Indeed, in addition to being the fastest growing OH provider, Health Management is actually one of the fastest growing companies of any sort in the UK – having figured in The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 index for the last two years. Aiming eventually to be the undisputed market leader, it places great emphasis on its ability as a large private business to invest heavily in technology.

Andrew Noble, managing director of Health Management, says: “We have the advantage of strong back office services and yet are small enough to provide a high level of care. It’s about having good doctors and nurses who are properly looked after and supervised, and you attract these by having good training programmes. Although we are acquiring some genuine new business the majority is coming from other providers and my sense is that some of the largest providers have shrunk.

“There is probably a little more outsourcing, although it’s only a gentle trickle. But the outsourcing trend is undoubtedly here to stay because we can deliver a 30% to 40% saving on large corporates who go this route. In fact in the case of one client who switched to us we saved 65%. Streamlining processes and gathering benchmarking data are key and, if we can compare data to private medical insurance [PMI] claims, we can suddenly start finding ways we can save money by, for example, preventing diseases or getting people to lift properly.”

Others to outperform are FirstCare, which refers to 20% organic growth in 2009 in addition to its acquisition last November of Active Health Partners. Roodlane Medical, meanwhile, reports 15% to 20% growth a year for the past two years.

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