When the first cases of Covid-19 were being reported more than two years ago, few would have predicted the scale and enormity of the pandemic. Dr Louise Slaney, medical director at medical services specialist International Medical Management (IMM) assesses its far-reaching health consequences and how, amidst these stern challenges, a strategic outlook can help managers look after their people – and their organisation.
The difficulties posed by Covid-19 have permeated every aspect of life – including healthcare in its very widest sense.
Its impact has extended beyond the death and illness toll of the disease itself, undermining the capability of health systems worldwide to deliver essential services.
That is because many of these systems have, at times, been overwhelmed by the volume of patients requiring treatment for Covid-19. At the same time, they’ve experienced staff shortages as personnel – in significant numbers – have tested positive for the virus or been required to follow isolation rules.
These circumstances have inevitably resulted in a compromised ability to treat other diseases and conditions, possibly leading to excessive deaths due to causes other than Covid-19 and affecting the long-term quality of life for some patients.
While the success of the vaccine rollout globally has certainly reduced hospitalisation numbers and virus-related deaths, I suspect it may take years for health services to recover from this shock to the system. This of course reflects the current situation, which could change should there be further variants.
It’s against this backdrop that we are seeing changing healthcare trends among many of our client companies, which are predominantly in the offshore energy industry. Prominent among these is a rise in sickness absence, due to a combination of factors arising directly from the pandemic: Long Covid symptoms, delays in the diagnosis of other conditions and mental health issues.
We are working with several clients to redefine and refocus their staff wellbeing strategies to take these issues directly into account.
One of the pillars of these strategies is a strengthened sickness absence process. Its priorities include supporting workers with regular calls with a clinician to monitor their progress and advise on the best route to recovery. This is based in part on the principle that early intervention frequently means earlier recovery times, and in our experience, it routinely leads to an improvement in sickness absence rates.
I mentioned mental health earlier, and it has been one of the most high-profile healthcare issues associated with the pandemic. Lockdown loneliness, isolation, worries about the virus itself, difficulties securing GP appointments, bereavement: all have contributed to a mental health crisis. According to the World Health Organisation, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of Covid-19.
It is certainly one of the leading causes of sickness absence from work, and again is among our prime areas of strategic focus in our client partnerships.
Underpinning these strategies overall is our conviction that early intervention can make all the difference. It’s why we will soon be launching a new IMM mental health programme and why we advocate a programme of wellbeing medicals to identify individuals at risk of heart disease, diabetes, types of cancer, mental health issues and more.
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly reshaped the healthcare landscape, and consequently has changed how specialists like IMM support clients. Adapting to evolving trends and priorities, embracing new tools and approaches, building on years of knowledge and experience form the central elements of a strategic treatment plan to support health-conscious clients in a post-pandemic world.