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Work Is 'Cure As Well As
Cause' Of Major Workplace Illnesses, UK
edited by Joint-Pain-Forum.com
'Musculoskeletal disorders' (MSDs) - an umbrella term that covers over 200
different ailments including arthritis, back pain and damage to joints, muscles
and tendons - affect twice as many people as 'stress', account for up to a third
of all GP consultations, cause 9.5 million lost working days, and cost society
£7.4bn a year*.
These are the main findings of a new report from The
Work Foundation into the economic and social impact of MSDs - by far the most
prevalent cause of work-related illness in the UK.
The report argues
that early intervention and an emphasis on keeping sufferers in work wherever
possible are likely to boost national productivity and help reduce the 2.6
million people claiming Incapacity Benefit. 'There is overwhelming evidence that
worklessness is, itself, bad for health,' the report says.
government needs to urgently rethink how health agencies co-ordinate treatment
of MSDs, offer greater support to small businesses, and give a higher priority
to understanding the labour market impact of MSDs as part of its Work, Health
and Wellbeing Strategy, the report recommends.
MSDs affect all kinds of
industries and occupations - in particular health and social care, the
construction and building trades, transport and machine drivers, process plant
and machine operatives, and caring personal service occupations. However, people
affected by an MSD are also likely to have mental health problems as well. The
chances of a swift return to work after an MSD-related absence is increased if
people have positive mental health and support from employers and family.
Michelle Mahdon, senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: 'Stress
hogs headlines, but in terms of people affected, MSDs are the bigger problem,
affecting more than a million people a year - and, of course, their families.
'Work can be both cause and cure. It may cause or aggravate symptoms of
MSDs, but evidence is amassing that with the right support arrangements work can
also be part of the recovery by contributing to a person's self-esteem and sense
of being productive. What urgently needs to change is the attitude of many GPs
and employers that an MSD sufferer must be 100 per cent well before any return
to work can be contemplated. Too many see only incapacity rather than capacity.'
The onset of an MSD may harm a person's work performance by affecting
stamina, concentration, mood, mobility and agility.
However, the report
urges GPs and employers to look beyond immediate physical symptoms in their
management of MSDs. The 'biopsychosocial model' of health - which emphasises the
interplay between biological (eg. disease, strain, joint damage), psychological
(eg. disposition, anxiety) and social (eg. work demands, family support) factors
- represents a 'helpful' way of assessing causes and planning treatment and
Dame Professor Carol Black, the government's National
Director for Health and Work, and author of the report's foreword, said: 'I hope
that in time MSDs will become less relevant to work and working life. Until
then, efforts to raise awareness of them must continue with ever greater
urgency. I welcome this report as a valuable contribution to the debate.'
www.Joint-Pain-Forum.com from original press release.
The report examined four conditions in detail. These are:
pain: a non-specific condition (meaning no specific diagnosis is given)
usually involving short episodes of pain. At any one time, 33 per cent of the UK
population suffers with back pain.
-- Work-related Upper Limb
Disorders: Another non-specific set of conditions which affect over 375,000
-- Rheumatoid Arthritis: A specific condition which
affects almost 400,000 people in the UK with 12,000 new cases each year. It is
estimated that almost a quarter of RA sufferers stop work within five years of
-- Ankylosing Spondylitis: a progressive and chronic
rheumatic disorder that mainly affects the spine, but can also affect other
joints, tendons and ligaments; it is most often diagnosed among men in their
early twenties. Over 200,000 people visit their GP with AS every year.
The report calls for:
-- Early intervention: long periods
away from work are usually bad for patients. Partnerships between patient,
employer and GP can achieve a balance between an individual's need for respite
and the need to work. For some MSD patients early access to physiotherapy or to
drug therapies can reduce the severity, impact or progression of the condition.
-- Better job design: managers can change the ways work is
organised - from adjusting working time, altering task allocation, to improving
-- Enhanced measurement of direct and indirect costs of
MSDs: much better mechanisms to assess and monitor the social and work
impact of MSDs are needed. The National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence (NICE) should take into account labour market impacts when examining
the economic effectiveness of different therapies. For example, whether a
patient can be kept in work and off Incapacity Benefit may drastically affect
decisions about the cost effectiveness of drug therapies.
1. 'Fit for
Work: Musculoskeletal Disorders and Labour Market Participation' by Stephen
Bevan, Eleanor Passmore and Michelle Mahdon is available from The Work
2. Michelle Mahdon is available for interview.
The best calculation of the cost of MSDs to society comes from the Health and
Safety Executive, which put the cost at £5.7 billion in 1995-6 (see Health and
Safety Statistics, 2005-6, HSE). Uprated for RPI inflation using the Office for
National Statistics recommended methodology results in £7.4 billion.
The project was supported by Abbott, the healthcare company.
individual case studies of MSD sufferers are available on request.
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