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Wishing well

Have you eaten five portions of fruit and veg today? Have you drunk two litres of water? What about 30 minutes of exercise? Are you eating low GI or cutting out carbs? Have you switched to brown bread and reduced your salt intake? Would you refuse to eat anything except organic food?

It seems that wherever we look we are bombarded with messages about our health.

As the clock ticks on our obesity timebomb, the Government is in on the act.

Motivated in part by rising healthcare costs but also alarmed by the inequalities in health that we see in the UK, the Government has started a concerted attempt to make us ditch the pies and dust off our running shoes.

The Government’s public health programme is called Choosing Health. It aims to improve the health of the nation in several ways, from banning smoking in public places to improving food labelling to make it easier for people to tell what is healthy.

One main area of focus is the workplace. The Government wants “to create workplaces where we protect the health and well-being of employees and optimise the opportunity to help people improve their own health and well-being”.

Businesspeople should welcome the promotion of health in the workplace because employers with a healthy workforce can also expect healthy profits.

Modern private medical insurance plans recognise this and offer innovative health and well-being support that promotes healthy workplaces. This is a progression from the traditional model of corporate medical insurance, which focused on getting employees back to work as staff as possible. Now we see employers aiming higher. Absence through sickness costs UK businesses more than £12bn a year.

Support can build from online health assessments or even full health screenings to identify different needs.

Standard Life Healthcare has introduced subsidised massage, changed the menu in the canteen to include more healthy foods and runs seminars on coping with stress. This has been achieved in partnership with health management consultancy Vielife, with which we work closely on our health and well-being offerings for corporate clients.

PMI plans can fit the needs of the individual client and are not just a one-size-fits-all plan to get people back to work when they are ill.

It can be a challenge to get businesses to respond to the need to improve health at work. Some employers think it is the Government’s job to keep people healthy while others do not believe that it can have an impact on such an intractable problem as ill health in the UK. But there are compelling reasons for employers to promote health at work and bosses can make an impact on health in the workplace.

Research shows that healthier people not only take less time off sick but are also more productive at work than unhealthy colleagues.

There are simple examples of this. It has been shown that adequate hydration is essential for proper concentration. It is an easy step for employers to supply water coolers or provide information for staff about the importance of avoiding dehydration. This alone could improve health and performance at work.

Health support as a part of corporate PMI plans goes much further. Standard Life Healthcare provides management information about the health of a company in four key areas – stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition, enabling employers to put together health promotion programmes that will be cost-effective.

There is also evidence to show the effectiveness of workplace health. Research from Vielife indicates a return on investment of nearly £4 for every £1 spent on preventive healthcare in the workplace.

Many UK companies have benefited from promoting health. For example, Parcelforce Worldwide has reduced sickness absence by a third since it started a health programme, saving around £5m. Improved health has also contributed to a 12.5 per cent productivity increase.

There are many examples from businesses that promoting health can improve performance – Business in the Community is a good place to find more information.

It is still important for PMI to fulfil its traditional function of making sure that people get prompt, high-quality treatment when they are ill. This is especially so as people become more demanding about the treatment they receive.

The challenge is for advisers and insurers to make the case to business and turn PMI from being an illness product into a wellness product.

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