Home Money RUTH SUNDERLAND: Chancellor must tackle ill-health’s £43bn toll on economy

RUTH SUNDERLAND: Chancellor must tackle ill-health’s £43bn toll on economy

by Elijah
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Problem: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt
  • Osteoporosis could give Jeremy Hunt an easy victory
  • Costs to economy could be reduced by ending postcode lottery in diagnosis
  • Extra cost of £30m a year to fund fracture liaison services in NHS trusts

Problem: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt knows only too well that one of the biggest threats to our prosperity – and his party’s electoral prospects – is a dysfunctional labor market.

At the center of the unrest is the very high level of economic inactivity: the approximately nine million people who are not working for various reasons. Of these, last week’s figures show that 2.8 million people of working age have dropped out of school due to health problems.

It is a serious problem. Skilled labor shortages hurt productivity, fuel wage inflation and will lead to greater caution from the Bank of England over much-needed interest rate cuts. The Chancellor needs to help people get back to work. Even better, he should take steps to prevent them from being forced out of the labor market due to illness or injury.

There is no single, grand, all-encompassing solution. The answer will come in a series of initiatives aimed at the common conditions that keep people out of the workplace. One of them, which could give Hunt an easy victory, is osteoporosis.

This devastating disease affects millions of men and women, many of them of working age. The loss of income for sufferers, who are forced to leave their jobs or retire earlier than they would like, amounts to around £1 billion a year, according to an analysis by Oxford University economists.

The real figure will be much higher if the income losses of people who take time off to care for elderly relatives with fractures are also taken into account. But the costs to the economy – and the human cost – could be dramatically reduced with a relatively small outlay to end the postcode lottery in early diagnosis.

It would cost an extra £30m a year to fund fracture liaison services across all NHS trusts in England and Wales. They are only present in approximately half. By offering scans to anyone over 50 who comes to A&E with a broken bone, they allow for early diagnosis.

This can reduce the number of broken bones by 40 per cent and prevent up to 750,000 days of lost work in England alone. The Royal Osteoporosis Society has received heartbreaking testimonies from some of those people.

Not pretenders, but teachers, nurses, decorators, retail staff, healthcare workers and archaeologists – people the economy needs. They were unable to continue the jobs they loved due to fractures that in many cases would have been prevented with early diagnosis. Politicians on both sides are calling on Hunt to implement fracture link services. They include Baronesses Ros Altmann, Catherine Meyer, Patience Wheatcroft, Molly Meacher, Helen Newlove and Kate Parminter, along with former Labor minister Lord Blunkett and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.

MPs backing the campaign include Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge, Carolyn Harris and Judith Cummins, Conservatives Harriett Baldwin, Caroline Nokes, Caroline Dineage, Steve Brine, Neil O’Brien and Selaine Saxby, as well as the Party’s deputy leader Liberal Democrat, Daisy Cooper.

There is no doubt that there are other health conditions where the story is similar. Economic inactivity due to general health problems takes a cost of £43 billion a year on the economy.

Last year, Hunt launched the WorkWell service to help around 60,000 disabled and long-term ill people find work again.

That’s a start. Ending the osteoporosis lottery won’t solve the entire problem either, but it would be a big step in the right direction. As MP Caroline Nokes says, it makes “moral, medical and financial sense”. She couldn’t have said it better.

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