With the end of the summer holidays, millions of people are returning to the office – yet for one in four people, that means working through the pain. Addressing their health issues would improve workers’ well-being and boost the wider economy.
The Social Market Foundation says that more must be done to help the 27% of the workforce who continue working despite persistent pain.
Workers with chronic pain are more likely to take sick leave and less productive when they can work – due to persistent physical pain. Studies in the US suggest this lost productivity costs the economy around 1% of GDP.
The SMF said that an awareness-raising campaign similar to ones around mental health is needed to make chronic pain in the workplace a genuine priority for businesses, backed up by measures from policymakers to monitor chronic pain better and improve treatment.
Yet chronic pain guidelines issued last year by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence led to concern from doctors that it will be harder for people to access pain management services and medications.
The SMF’s analysis of the most recent available Health Survey for England data found that women and working-class people are more likely to work through chronic pain.
To improve our understanding of chronic pain and our response to it, the SMF recommends:
- The chronic pain module of the Health Survey for England should be re-run, especially given the impact of Covid on long-term health outcomes.
- The National Health Security Agency should commission or research chronic pain in the UK to understand its costs and impact.
- The likely move to decommission chronic pain services should be scrutinised carefully in case it is counter-productive.
- More support from businesses for their staff, raising the profile of chronic pain similarly to mental health in the workplace.
Aveek Bhattacharya, SMF chief economist, said: ‘Most of us at some point or another will have struggled through work despite not feeling fully fit, but it is shocking and disturbing to think that one in four workers in regular pain.’
‘We should be doing everything we can to reduce that suffering simply because it is the right thing to do. It is a bonus that we can simultaneously improve people’s engagement with work and their productivity, boosting the economy.’
‘With the country facing major health and labour market challenges as we emerge from the pandemic, it is about time that chronic pain received the attention it deserves from the public, researchers, employers, and policymakers.’