| Call for united front on rehabilitation
Sickness absence: Conference highlights the need for an integrated solution
Rehabilitation needs to become an integral part of the healthcare options offered to employees if return to work figures are to reach more acceptable levels, according to Professor Gordon Waddell, at the Centre for Psychosocial & Disability Research, Cardiff University.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine's conference, Pathways to Work: Enabling rehabilitation, Waddell expressed a need for all players to form a united front if absence due to sickness is ever going to decrease.
"Rehabilitation can not be a second stage after health care, it needs to be integrated. Incapacity is not inevitable," he said.
Return to work figures in the UK are extremely poor when compared with other countries in Europe. In Scandinavia, for example, 50% of employees return to work after suffering from health problems. In contrast, in the UK, the number of employees returning to work after ill health is just 15%.
The reasons for absence cannot be attributed to serious diseases such as cancer, however. Instead, it is less severe health problems that contribute to employee absence.
"If you want to reduce the number of people off work, employers need to look at more common problems such as tiredness, headache, worry, lower back pain, and shoulder and neck pain," said Professor Holgen Ursin, of the University of Bergen in Norway.
Delegates' attention was also drawn to the problem language plays in ill health and absence. Professor Mansel Aylward, of the Centre for Psychosocial & Disability research at Cardiff University, said people use different kinds of language when expressing their health problems, which only serves to heighten the problem. "Illness means different things to different people and we should explore that," he said.
It is proven that subjective illnesses account for two thirds of current benefit claims. While no-one knows how common health fraud is, figures suggest it is quite widespread, said Dr Christopher Bass, of Oxford University.
The results of a recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) revealed one in three sick notes are bogus. Some 72% of survey respondents also admitted taking time off work as a sick day, when they were not sick at all. "This shows that deception is much more common than we think," he said.
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