Give staff free fruit, min­is­ter tells bosses

Firms must do more to help sick work­ers get back to health and re­duce bur­den on NHS, says Han­cock

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR Matt Han­cock in­ter­view:

COM­PA­NIES should of­fer perks such as free fruit, bi­cy­cle loans and coun­selling to help keep work­ers healthy, a new gov­ern­ment strat­egy sug­gests.

A ma­jor ini­tia­tive to be launched to­mor­row by Matt Han­cock, the Health Sec­re­tary, calls on em­ploy­ers to do more to “help im­prove the health of their staff and the na­tion”.

The strat­egy, which min­is­ters hope will help re­lieve pres­sure on the NHS, cites a firm in Cornwall as a model, which of­fers staff free fruit, coun­selling and a cy­cle-to-work scheme.

In an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Tel

egraph, Mr Han­cock also says firms should do more to help ill em­ploy­ees re­turn to work. He is “at­tracted to the model in the Nether­lands where em­ploy­ers have more of a role in work­ing with em­ploy­ees who are off sick”.

He also sug­gests com­pa­nies can learn from the mil­i­tary’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of wounded sol­diers, who have an 85 per cent “re­turn to work rate” af­ter se­ri­ous in­juries. By com­par­i­son, just 35 per cent of civil­ians went back to work fol­low­ing se­ri­ous ill­nesses, he said.

“The les­son is that em­ploy­ers need to be more en­gaged when peo­ple aren’t well, get­ting them back to work.”

The “pre­ven­tion” strat­egy comes af­ter Theresa May pledged to “en­sure that peo­ple can en­joy five ex­tra healthy, in­de­pen­dent years of life by 2035”.

It states that the health of the pop­u­la­tion can be im­proved by changes to the en­vi­ron­ment, hous­ing and the use of tech­nol­ogy to “pre­dict” ill­ness, as well as new ini­tia­tives by em­ploy­ers. With the con­sent of pa­tients, tech­nol­ogy could now be used by doc­tors to check they are tak­ing their pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion, Mr Han­cock sug­gests.

The strat­egy calls the work­place a “great set­ting for reach­ing peo­ple with mes­sages en­cour­ag­ing healthy life­styles, in­clud­ing ad­vice on smok­ing, eat­ing healthily and stay­ing ac­tive”.

It says: “Many busi­nesses are al­ready tak­ing ac­tion in this space … More em­ploy­ers should fol­low suit to help im­prove the health of their staff and of the na­tion.” It cites Rodda’s, a Corn wall-based dairy firm: “It em­ploys 178 staff and places a big em­pha­sis on health and well-be­ing. Ini­tia­tives in­clude free fruit, coun­selling, be­reave­ment and le­gal ser­vices, cy­cle to work scheme, and a staff vol­un­teer scheme.”

Matt Han­cock found him­self in an unusu­ally for­tu­nate start­ing po­si­tion when he be­came Health Sec­re­tary in July. He ap­point­ment came weeks af­ter Theresa May agreed to in­crease the bud­get of the NHS by £20bil­lion a year.

Now, the for­mer cul­ture sec­re­tary sees his task not just as en­sur­ing the money is spent ef­fec­tively and with­out waste, but also as help­ing to re­lieve the bur­den on the health ser­vice by re­duc­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who need it.

His “pre­ven­tion strat­egy”, which he sets out in an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Tele­graph ahead of a for­mal launch to­mor­row, is based around the sim­ple prin­ci­ple that avoid­ing ill­ness in the first place “is bet­ter than cure”.

“Of course the NHS is very fo­cused on what hap­pens in hospi­tal, but 80per cent of what af­fects the length of your healthy life hap­pens out­side of hospi­tal, and pre­vent­ing ill health in the first place is mis­sion crit­i­cal to the sus­tain­abil­ity of the NHS and to the health of us all,” he says.

The pre­ven­tion strat­egy out­lines how ill health can be pre­vented with the help of em­ploy­ers, im­prove­ments to hous­ing, and the use of tech­nol­ogy and ge­nomics – the anal­y­sis of pa­tients’ DNA.

Mr Han­cock, renowned in West­min­ster for his en­thu­si­asm for tech­nol­ogy, says re­cent in­no­va­tions en­able the NHS to tar­get ad­vice at the sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion to whom it is most rel­e­vant – and could even al­low GPs to check pa­tients are tak­ing the medicine pre­scribed to them.

“The in­no­va­tions from new tech­nol­ogy and bet­ter use of data al­low us to have much more pre­dic­tive pre­ven­tion,” he says.

In prac­tice, for ex­am­ple, this could lead to the NHS tar­get­ing anti- smok­ing mes­sages at preg­nant women us­ing data it al­ready holds on pa­tients.

He adds: “Where peo­ple con­sent and want to, you can go much fur­ther. For in­stance, if you get your genome par­tially se­quenced you can find out if you have a de­fi­ciency in a par­tic­u­lar vi­ta­min.

“A vi­ta­min B12 de­fi­ciency leads to a higher in­stance of de­men­tia but can eas­ily be pre­vented by eat­ing broc­coli. If we said to the pop­u­la­tion as a whole you must eat more broc­coli, it wouldn’t go down as well as if peo­ple have their genomes se­quenced [and] know that they have a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem with vi­ta­min B12 …

“That’s the sort of pre­dic­tive pre­ven­tion you can use data for.”

The Gov­ern­ment pledged to map 100,000 hu­man genomes by the end of this year to help un­lock a “trea­sure trove” of in­for­ma­tion to tackle dis­eases such as can­cer. Mr Han­cock aims to ex­pand that fig­ure to five mil­lion over the next five years.

Clearly con­scious of his open­ness to ac­cu­sa­tions of en­cour­ag­ing a Big Brother state, Mr Han­cock re­peat­edly in­sists that per­sonal data would not be used with­out the con­sent of in­di­vid­ual pa­tients. But with such per­mis­sion, in­for­ma­tion from wear­able tech­nol­ogy, such as Fit­bit wrist­watches, could be mon­i­tored by doc­tors to help en­sure pa­tients are keep­ing up ac­tiv­ity lev­els.

Pa­tients could even “choose to wear a de­vice that mea­sures whether you take a drug” and passes the in­for­ma­tion on to their doc­tor.

“At the mo­ment [doc­tors] have to rely on you say­ing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘maybe I miss it once a week’. There are tech­nolo­gies now avail­able and just start­ing to be used where you can mea­sure whether or not that drug has been taken by the in­di­vid­ual.”

The strat­egy also sug­gests that in­di­vid­ual com­pa­nies should do more to sup­port the health of their staff, in­clud­ing by pro­vid­ing free fruit and fund­ing “cy­cle to work” schemes.

Em­ploy­ers have an “in­creas­ingly large role to play in sup­port­ing em­ploy­ees when they are not well”, Mr Han­cock adds. “Other coun­tries in Europe are much bet­ter than we are at this – at help­ing peo­ple to get back into the work­force. I’ve just been at the De­fence and Na­tional Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre in Lough­bor­ough, which helps sol­diers get back to fit­ness af­ter in­jury.

“Sol­diers have an 85per cent re­turn-to-work rate af­ter a se­ri­ous in­jury and they have ob­vi­ously some very se­ri­ous in­juries. The equiv­a­lent rate for civil­ians is only 35per cent … and the les­son from that is em­ploy­ers need to be more en­gaged when peo­ple aren’t well, get­ting them back to work.

“We’ve just funded a £70mil­lion project in the Bud­get to put the NHS along­side the mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity so that we can see the les­sons the mil­i­tary have learned in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and bring them into the NHS.” Mr Han­cock cites the ex­am­ple of Hol­land, where com­pa­nies are pe­nalised if they fail to demon­strate “due dili­gence” in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of un­well staff.

He adds: “The links be­tween the em­ploy­ers and the NHS and peo­ple who are un­well need to be strength­ened here.”

‘Pre­vent­ing ill health in the first place is mis­sion crit­i­cal to the sus­tain­abil­ity of the NHS and to the health of us all’

‘Em­ploy­ers need to be more en­gaged when peo­ple aren’t well’

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