Common barriers to employment include: limitations as a result of a person’s condition; lack of flexibility, making work unsustainable alongside medical appointments or fluctuating conditions; and lack of understanding, negative attitudes and discrimination from colleagues, employers and potential employers.3
To overcome the challenges faced by people living with long term conditions, they need to be supported to remain in or return to work and this requires integrated joint working across the NHS, the Government, employers and individuals themselves.
There is a role for the NHS to support early diagnosis and prevention of long term conditions to improve outcomes for individuals by ensuring that patients can access specialist care and treatment sooner.4 Early intervention can help individuals to treat, manage or delay disease progression, which can have a positive impact on health, education and employment outcomes.5
Accessing and remaining in employment for people with long term conditions should be a stated clinical outcome in the new health and social care partnerships in Scotland, and where closer links with the third sector can be embedded into health and social care structures. Developing services where patients can be supported to manage their conditions at home, and which avoid the need to attend hospital appointments, can reduce demand for time off work. Good medicines management can reduce flare-ups, avoid hospital admissions and can improve patient outcomes, thereby supporting people to remain in work.
Both the UK and Scottish Governments must ensure that systems developed to provide work-focused support reflect the particular needs of people living with long-term conditions, particularly the fluctuating nature of some conditions, to ensure that, in partnership with the NHS, remaining in or returning to work is a key outcome for both government agency and NHS activities.6
There is also a role for the voluntary sector and patient representative groups to work with organisations like the DWP and the newly devolved agencies to develop more specialist employment support for people with long term health conditions.
Employers should play a greater role in making work more accessible to people with long term conditions, and in creating an environment where people feel comfortable to ask for help, for time off to attend hospital appointments, and for reasonable adjustments to be made.
AbbVie is committed to working with the NHS to develop sustainable solutions to support people back into work. As members of the Fit for Work Coalition, we are backing the calls to action to create joined up solutions to empower people living with long term conditions to remain or return to work and be economically active. And through our Sustainable Healthcare Initiatives, we are putting this into practice. In England, we are working with the Leeds Community Healthcare Trust to create the UK’s first Early Intervention Clinic for people who have been signed off work with a musculoskeletal disorder. The clinic is specifically designed to enable quick referrals from primary care - allowing patients access to a specialist in just five days. Evidence has shown that this type of early intervention can reduce temporary work disability by 39% and permanent work disability by 50%.7
“The Healthy Working Lives: Long-term Conditions Don’t Have to Mean Worklessness” Conference taking place in Glasgow brings together experts, patient organisations and practitioners to share and discuss better ways of supporting people with long-term conditions to return to and stay in work.