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Employers must combat the stigma around chronic disease, urges Dame Carol Black


Dame Carol Black (pictured), author of Health at Work and expert advisor to the Department of Health and Lord Freud, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Department for Work and Pensions have called for more to be done to ensure employees with long- term health conditions can stay in work to help improve their wellbeing and maintain business diversity. ?

Addressing senior HR professionals from key business sectors k Black said: "Early diagnosis, plan of intervention and appropriate treatment - including occupational rehabilitation - are essential for job retention and return to work. Employees need to learn how to best communicate their needs to their doctors and managers in order to be provided with the right type of support both clinically and in the workplace.

"Similarly, employers should encourage co-workers of those living with long-term conditions to combat the yet prevalent stigma around chronic disease."

The employers summit, 'Employee Support: Good Business Sense' provided a forum to discuss the impact of long-term health conditions on employees and employers, with delegates hearing directly from someone living and working with a long-term health condition, insights from the Government on what it aims to achieve in this area and learnings from award winning employers who have established successful support programmes.

The meeting was organised in partnership with The Work Foundation and was fully funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK.

One in three people in the UK is living with a long-term health condition and each year over 300,000 people leave work as a result.

This figure is on the increase as Britain faces the dual challenge of an ageing workforce and widespread changes to lifestyles. With more than £9 billion paid out by employers in sickness and absence related costs, retaining and supporting talented staff with long-term health conditions must be an ongoing priority for employers.

Summit delegates recognised the value of having a diverse workforce and the importance of addressing the stigma that can be associated with long-term health conditions such as multiple sclerosis and depression. Organisational culture is key to making this happen and business leaders should lead by example and empower line managers with knowledge and confidence to offer appropriate, tailored support to individuals with long-term conditions.

Keynote speakers, Helen Chipchase, disability and carers lead at the BT Diversity Centre of Expertise and Margret Samuel, chief medical officer at EDF Energy gave insights into successful programmes they have developed for managing long-term conditions in larger companies.

They encouraged smaller companies to have a vision for how they would want to support and retain talented staff.

Stephen Bevan, director, Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation added: "In the current economic climate, businesses may be reluctant to address health challenges affecting their employees but we would urge them to invest early to retain talented staff as this is more sensitive and cost-effective in the long-term. Every company can make small changes that can make a big difference to the individual's wellbeing and overall productivity."

Erica Thomas, HR director UK and Ireland, Novartis Pharmaceuticals said: "At Novartis, we believe in focusing on the capacity of our employees, rather than incapacity. I believe we should challenge our current thinking to ensure we are maximising new ways of working for people from all walks of working life."