More than one million employees’ work impacted by NHS waiting lists, official data shows

Analysis reveals demand for private healthcare has increased, but only a small percentage of employees had their bills paid for through insurance

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One in five (19 per cent) employees impacted by the NHS backlog say their work has been affected, data shows.

The NHS backlog – which has increased to more than 7.2 million – has seen two fifths (40 per cent) of employees change the tasks they do, while a fifth (20 per cent) have had to reduce their working hours while they wait for treatment.

Analysis of official data by Broadstone also found that with just under 2.5 million people reporting that long-term sickness prevented them from working, over one in ten (15 per cent) said the wait for NHS treatment meant that they had to go on long-term sick leave – which is equivalent to over 215,000 people.

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John Petter, chief executive of Zellis, said these figures demonstrate that poor health and the wait for treatment are “holding many employees back from giving their best, and having a knock-on effect on organisations.”

Petter added that employers should make special efforts to support employees living with long-term conditions, in addition to calculating and providing sickness pay on time and accurately.

“Helping these colleagues to stay in productive work not only benefits the organisation, it promotes the employees’ mental wellbeing and financial security at a time when stress and economic hardship are a worry for many,” he said.

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With the backlog growing, demand for private healthcare has also increased. Indeed, the ONS’ latest figures for December 2022 found 7 per cent of employees paid for their own private health treatment, while 5 per cent covered the cost with insurance.

Meanwhile, recent analysis of official data by IPPR found that just under two thirds (60 per cent) of people who are economically inactive because of long-term illness are living with a mental health problem.

The analysis revealed that 2.5 million people are inactive because of their health, which is allegedly the “highest level since records began” and was attributed to sickness among young adults. Inactivity had risen by two fifths (42 per cent) among 25-34 year olds, compared to just a 16 per cent uplift among 50-64 year olds.

Musab Hemsi, legal director and employment law specialist at Anderson Strathern, said the impact of absences on organisations is “significant” as sickness costs the economy billions of pounds annually – but it also impacts businesses' bottom line.

“Sick leave means lower business productivity, negative impact on service delivery, client dissatisfaction, low morale and high stress levels. When not properly managed or supported, the risks, costs and disruption are far greater,” said Hemsi. 

He added that “addressing the matter early will allow you to plan ahead and understand what your obligations are to the employee”, while understanding the reasons for long-term absence will “allow an informed decision as to whether the employee can return to work at all and if so, when and in what capacity”.