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The impact of surgery in the workplace

November 20, 2021

Each year 12 million people undergo elective surgery in the UK. This has a knock-on effect on the workplace, with surgical recovery being the third most common cause of absence across all industries.

Approximately 0.84 days are lost per employee annually to surgical recovery. However, this number is not inclusive of the additional time lost due to attending surgical consultations, the hospital stay to undergo the procedure, or lost productivity related to the surgery/illness.

Surgical absenteeism is on the rise in direct correlation to the increasing age of the workforce and increased prevalence of multi-morbidity (presence of two or more long-term health conditions). We have come a long way in supporting other health issues in the workplace setting, such as diabetes, mental health, and MSK issues - but little is being done to tackle surgery.  

For our employees, undergoing surgery can be a frightening and confusing experience.

There are significant psychological, physical and social implications that people are faced with both before and after their procedure.  Anxiety, chronic pain and loneliness to name a few of the common health issues related to surgery.

The incidence of preoperative anxiety ranges from 60% to 92% and the disruption and delays caused by COVID-19 has been shown to exacerbate the impact on peoples’ mental health.

Chronic post-surgical pain affects up to 50% of people having major surgery. If not adequately managed, pain is associated with a broad range of negative consequences including impaired function/disability, a slower recovery, prolonged opioid use and a lower quality of life.

The impact of surgery on an individuals’ social health is often overlooked with prolonged recovery resulting in loneliness, lack of connections, limited community or family support and an inability to continue with important life roles. In addition to this, the financial burden of prolonged absence negatively impacts individuals and their families. 

Despite surgery being the third leading cause of absence and having a significant impact on peoples’ lives, existing health and benefits packages haven’t yet met the needs of their employees undergoing surgery. 

The existing care provided by private and public healthcare providers is wholly inadequate. Often patients are arriving for surgery uninformed, unprepared and in a poor state of health leading to the aforementioned complications.  More can be done by us, as employers, to provide our employees with the support they require through these major life events. 

Prehabilitation, or prehab, is the act of preparing the body and mind for surgery. Improving an individual's health prior to surgery reduces the risk of post-surgical complications, improves the physical and/or psychological outcomes and accelerates recovery.

Existing evidence highlights the important role of prehabilitation in returning patients to baseline function. Other e-health programs promoting patient self-management have demonstrated a speedier return to work following some surgical procedures (27% quicker in this study following patients undergoing hysterectomy). 

What this means for employers is  a direct cost saving from the reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism and indirect savings from reduced staff turnover. Moreover, providing your employees with this much needed support will result in a happier, healthier workforce.

Employers are in a unique position to have a major impact on their employees' lives, with better support through surgery. 

This will require businesses to take a pioneering step forward. Taking more responsibility in caring for their employees will reward businesses with more appreciative workers ready to return to work sooner.

COVID-19 has heightened the need to act now.

 As a result of the pandemic, we face a backlog crisis in the UK - with 5.3M people waiting for elective surgery. This number could grow to 13M people by next year.  Longer waiting times can result in a worsening of the underlying, untreated condition. It’s critical that employers take action to prevent significant losses from this decline in workers' health. Introducing a prehabilitation program like Sapien will best prepare your employees for surgery and support them on their road to recovery.