Cashing in on healthy employees

Offering healthcare to employees might seem like an expensive incentive, but in the long run it could help save you thousands. Asian Enterprise reports

According to the CBI, workers took an average of seven sick days in 2006, losing 175 million working days and costing the economy a whopping £13.4bn, which hits small and medium sized business especially hard. Taking a proactive approach by empowering employees to manage their health, as well as giving them the tools to do so, could be the answer.

When running a successful business it’s vital to ensure that employees and their families stay fit and healthy all year round with regular health check-ups at their doctor, dentist and optician. However, the credit crunch is beginning to take its toll. A survey commissioned by Hospital Saturday Fund (HSF) health plan shows 48% of UK residents are putting off these essential medical checks because of the cost. This is a rise of 30% since 2006.

Stephen Duff, Deputy Chief Executive of HSF health plan, believes this trend could herald bad news for businesses.

“When employees avoid costly medical checks they are more likely to develop preventable problems, like impacted teeth, or serious preventable diseases like mouth cancer and glaucoma, which can lead to time off work.

“Similarly, if they suffer chronic illness like back pain, difficulty accessing regular medical services, such as physiotherapy, can allow conditions to worsen and again cause unnecessary and costly long-term absence,” Duff adds.

 

Health cash plans, bridge the gap between difficult to access public health services and relatively expensive private medical insurance. For a comparatively small monthly premium, contributors are reimbursed with a percentage (up to 100%) of the cost of routine health expenses, such as a medical specialist, dentist or optician appointments or treatment. With the security of knowing these unforeseen costs are taken care of, employees are able to schedule regular health checks at a time to suit them and their colleagues, making any absence planned and accountable. Regular checks also have the benefit of picking up and monitoring minor health conditions, and with the financial cover and peace of mind that cash plans provide, employees can seek treatment at an earlier stage before the condition causes long-term absence.

 

Companies can fund a health cash plan entirely on behalf of employees as a workplace benefit, provide part funding or simply make participation voluntary. Health cash plans offer a beneficial rate to corporate contributors, whether self or employer-funded. Providing a health cash plan does more for workplace health than simply providing access. This kind of employee benefit sends a clear message to the workforce that positive health is at the very heart of the company. By funding contributions, at least in part, employers are encouraging their workforce to also invest and become interested in their health. Along with other healthy-living initiatives this can have a marked effect on absenteeism.

 

Leonard Cheshire Disability, a charity that aims to change attitudes to disability and to support disabled people, has seen significant benefits since adopting a health cash plan.

 

Clare Smith, HR Director, says the organisation offers an HSF health plan scheme free to all senior members of staff, while other staff have the choice to opt-in for a small monthly fee.

 

“We have had a great response with about 75% of all senior staff taking up the health cash plan and about 10% of all staff across the organisation having signed up. It’s a brilliant uptake considering we have a lot of part-time workers,” she says.

 

“There has been a significant reduction in staff absences and a definite increase in staff retention. We have a healthier workforce and our staff seem to worry less about their health, and their families health, knowing that there is a health cash plan to support them."

 

Stephen Duff says the importance of looking after the health of an employee’s family, as well as the employee, should not be underestimated.

 

“If a worker’s dependent child is ill they will inevitably have to take extra time off work to look after them. HSF health plan is the only health cash plan that covers the whole family at no extra cost, which helps make scheduling regular appointments with healthcare professionals easy.”

 

One of the UK’s leading financial experts, Jasmine Birtles endorses health cash plans, saying those like HSF are a really sensible way for families to budget.

 

“As people in the UK are increasingly having to pay for all kinds of treatments, paying a small, monthly amount to a scheme like this is a great way of covering costs and giving parents peace of mind."

 

With HSF health plan, these treatments include employee’s visits to their usual optician or dentist and practitioner treatment (including physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropody). Money can also be offered back for specialist consultations, investigations and hospital stays, recuperation, homecare assistants and home help, as well as birth and adoption grants and personal accident cover. Every aspect of day-to-day healthcare is taken care of.

 

One of the most popular aspects of the HSF schemes is the free GP Advice Line, which gives contributors and their families 24-hour, seven-day a week access to a team of qualified, practicing GPs who can offer diagnosis, advice, reassurance and second option. This helps cut back on unnecessary staff absence and speeds up access to treatment.

 

New figures show that offering employees the GP Advice Line could cut staff absence by more than two thirds, with a staggering 70% of consultations resulting in the patient having an effective diagnosis and course of action without referral to another medical professional. Additionally, over 90% of consultations result in the patient having a clear course of action.

 

Stephen Duff says the GP Advice Line significantly reduces the need for lengthy doctor’s visits.

 

“If no advice line is available and an employee, their partner or their child feels ill they can end up spending much of the morning in a doctor’s waiting room, possibly picking up extra germs and illnesses that can be taken back to homes and offices and perpetuate seasonal ills.”

 

As well as a 24-hour GP Advice Line, HSF health plan offers Legal Advice and Stress Counselling Lines. The Stress Counselling line is staffed by nurse counsellors 365 days a year and allows contributors to talk for as long as they need to, which has proven very popular with workers.

 

Stress is often implicated in employee absence, with 13.8 million days of absence per year attributable to workplace stress. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development last year reported that one in five people experience a high level of stress at work, at a cost of £9.6bn to British business.

 

Established in 1873, HSF health plan allows workers to save for their healthcare. HSF health plan is a not-for-profit organisation, which makes regular donations to hospitals, hospices and medically-associated charities, as well as to individuals whose health problems have caused financial stress and hardship.

 

Go to www.hsf.co.uk or call 020 7928 6662 for more information.

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