Three ways to support employees affected by the NHS backlog

By Claire Glynn | Head of Musculoskeletal Services
With over five million people now waiting to access delayed NHS support, there are three things employers can do to help employees who are struggling.
According to our latest Health at Work Report, more than one in two (51%) employees have been affected by NHS delays, causing many to experience pain and distress.

One in ten (11%) have been extremely affected by operation cancellations, with those waiting for elective musculoskeletal (MSK) surgery amongst the worst affected. This means the NHS is now struggling to treat the second biggest cause of workplace absence.

The longer employees have to wait for support, the more their condition will deteriorate. So help them to pace themselves, adopt pain management strategies and stay in work, to make them feel cared for and reduce their recovery time.

1. Make reasonable adjustments

You only need to turn on the news to see how distressing it’s been for people who were booked in for treatment or operations before the pandemic to still have no idea of when they’ll be seen. Normally when operations are cancelled, people are given access to rehabilitation consultants to look after them in the interim.

Those affected are feeling very let down and ignored, so take an interest and show that you care. It’s much easier for people to open up if you say: “How are you? Really, how are you?” Ask them how much pain they’re experiencing, and how their everyday life is being affected and ask what you can do to help. Simple adjustments to working conditions, like reducing the amount of walking or steps they must do, can make a huge difference. So can allowing them to start work a bit later if they’re struggling to sleep due to pain at night.

Many of those waiting for elective hip and knee operations are older employees, who have also spent much of the last year locked up in their houses. So they might be feeling very vulnerable, in a way that could become more debilitating than the pain they’re experiencing. Bottling up these feelings isn’t helpful, so let them know it’s okay to share how they’re feeling and encourage them to use any emotional support services, such as talking to a counsellor via the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if they’re really struggling.

2. Help people to pace themselves

Help employees to recognise where their limits are when it comes to pain and their ability to exert themselves and pace themselves by not pushing themselves past this.

Reassure people that you don’t want them to push themselves past their limits and encourage managers to be realistic about setting deadlines and workloads. Encourage open and honest communication. If they’re having a flare-up, it’s better if they feel able to tell their manager, instead of pushing themselves past their limits and having to take the rest of the day or the next day off sick.

Also, encourage people to take regular breaks. Even when we’re not living with pain and discomfort, someone who sits at their desk for 10 hours solid isn’t as productive as someone who works for six hours with two fresh-air breaks in between. Pain is mentally as well as physically debilitating and our rate of work decreases when we don’t revive ourselves. It’s important to remind those who are struggling to take proper breaks in the fresh air if possible.

3. Provide pain management support

It can be very difficult for people to cope with things like pain management alone especially when there’s often very little that can be done to reduce the actual pain. However, physiotherapy helplines and pain management webinars use biopsychosocial (BPS) models to help people continue to function despite the pain, which means their experience of the pain is reduced, even if the actual pain hasn’t.

They feel better because they can do more and still attend work, whereas maybe they had to lie in bed before. Individual clinical assessments can also be used to help people work out what their pain threshold is and how to pace themselves to better manage this, and refer them to strengthening and reconditioning support if needed.

Helping the employee to stay as strong as possible before surgery is important since they’ll need a period of rehabilitation after surgery. The fitter and stronger they are going into surgery, the quicker their recovery will be and the less time they’ll need off work. It’s about putting the support in now to reduce absence further down the line.

How can PAM Physio Solutions Help?

Our wide range of workplace physiotherapy solutions can help you to reduce the impact of the NHS backlog on your workforce in the following ways:

Musculoskeletal assessments

Even if employees can’t be rehabilitated with physiotherapy alone, our expert team can still assess employees to recommend workplace adjustments and pain management strategies.

Occupational physiotherapy

To help employees recover, or limit further deterioration, our physiotherapy services can be delivered to groups or individuals, to help them improve movement and function.

Physiotherapy information line (PhIL)

Provide employees with immediate telephone access to a musculoskeletal expert for advice on musculoskeletal injury management, to make them feel cared for and reduce absence.

Workplace physiotherapy strategies

Our data driven approach can help you to understand the impact that delays to MSK treatment is having on your workforce to devise an integrated strategy to reduce this.
For more information about how we can support your people to stay in work and reduce recovery time, email or call 01925 989741

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