The group income protection sector needs to do more to share its evidence base with government and the wider workplace health community if its views are to be given weight in formulating policy, says Public Health England’s health and wellbeing chief.
PHE national lead for adult health and wellbeing Dr Justin Varney told delegates at the Corporate Adviser Healthcare and Group Risk Forum this week that the GIP sector has some of the strongest evidence of the benefits of return to work strategies, but does not share it with the broader workplace health sector. Varney said GIP providers need to publish more evidence of the impact of their services if their voice is to be heard in the debate around the DWP/DH Improving Lives Green Paper, which calls for ideas on incentives to improve take-up of workplace protection and return to work services.
Varney said the Government wanted views on how to make GIP attractive to small and medium sized businesses, but needed to know that any new measures would impact a large number of these businesses for it to take action.
He also pointed to accreditation schemes as a valuable source of evidence, but called on the entire sector to come together with a common approach to gathering data so a coherent evidence base could be created to give employers a more compelling reason to engage with workplace health solutions.
In a wide-ranging speech, Varney said future goals for government included upstream integration of health and work issues into undergraduate and postgraduate education, the integration of work as a clinical outcome into healthcare professional practice, the promotion of sector as well as locally led approaches, nationally and globally and the building of a national employer-led narrative on workplace health, productivity and public health.
He also highlighted one of the proposals in the Green Paper that the NHS’s occupational health offering be reinvigorated so that people presenting with a long term condition in secondary care would get a conversation that asks about work. Those with issues or challenges could then be referred into occupational therapy, physio or psychology services, with the most complex cases being pointed towards occupational health.
Varney said: “A challenge for your sector is there is a lack of evidence. We have a lot of people saying I can solve the problem that you have in your workplace, particularly in obesity where people seem to have a new solution every day. Virtually none of them have got any evidence behind them, and few are collecting data in a routine or systematic way.
“Interestingly the group income protection sector has quite a lot of data but you don’t share it very well and it doesn’t get published. So it doesn’t move into the evidence base in terms of demonstrating the impact of what works. And that evidence of what works is not just for the business sector, it is also for the public sector.
“There needs to be more consistency across those working in this area as to what works in workplace health, so that there is consensus on what data should be collected, how we should be doing evaluation and how we should be sharing what we learn to demonstrate impact.”
“Around income protection, one of the things we have been wrestling with which is a challenge at a national level, is how would this work for small and medium businesses. We understand the concept in terms of large businesses, and we are supportive of that. But a lot of the businesses in this country are small. So what is this about? Is it about supply chain cascade, about having regional deals for small and medium businesses, what is it that can solve this gap for us. Because it is very hard for government to say ‘this is what we should do’ when for a large number of businesses it is not going to help.
“This is a real opportunity for the sector to come up with some solutions, to help us and say ‘this is how it could work for small and medium businesses’, or to say ‘it isn’t going to work, but that’s ok. You just have to find a different solution for SMEs. But one of the opportunities of the Green Paper is as an industry to flex your muscles and given an opinion about what might work.
“We know that workplace accreditation schemes are useful for building the evidence base and there is some evidence that they are effective in helping employers do the right thing in their workplaces. However we are moving away from having a national, one-size-fits-all model to a more regional level, so they can create their own scheme that is suitable for the business landscape that they have but also for the health priorities of the population locally.
“We are also starting to develop some sectoral-specific accreditation schemes where they have enhanced needs. So we are working with the police on one for the emergency services where they want to see more enhancements around response to stress, traumatic exposure etcetera.”