A new survey conducted by Simplyhealth reveals that the increasing number of sick days taken by employees is currently the biggest issue faced by British businesses.

The findings show that 70 percent of businesses now feel a greater responsibility to care for their employees’ health due to prolonged NHS waiting times.

This heightened concern is driven by the record high of 2.83 million people out of work on long-term sick leave, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The healthcare and education sectors are the most affected, with 45 percent and 43 percent of employers respectively reporting rising sick days.

Manufacturing follows with 35 percent. Employees across these sectors cite mental health and musculoskeletal issues as the primary reasons for taking sick leave, averaging 5.8 and 5.7 days respectively over the past year.

The survey indicates that 52 percent of employees believe they would take less time off if their employer provided health cover such as GP appointments and physiotherapy.

£15o billion lost annually due to sick days

This situation is taking a toll not only on individuals’ health but also on the economy, with an estimated £150 billion lost annually due to reduced productivity from sick days. As a result, 81 percent of companies acknowledge that poor employee health diminishes their productivity.

To address these challenges, many businesses are turning to low-cost health plans. Currently, only 60 percent of employees have access to health cover, but demand is growing due to the rising costs of Private Medical Insurance (PMI), projected to increase by 11.2 percent next year. These health plans offer essential services such as physiotherapy, mental health counselling, and GP services, which can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each business. Notably, 81 percent of employers with existing health plans aim to help employees avoid preventable health conditions.

Health plans also play a crucial role in attracting and retaining staff. According to the survey, 60 percent of employees with access to a health plan consider it their most valuable benefit. Additionally, 52 percent were attracted to their company because of this benefit, 72 percent are incentivised to stay, and 67 percent would worry about losing health cover if they changed jobs. Also, 82 percent of employees value health cover for quicker GP access.

Private health cover is on the rise

Paul Schreier, CEO of Simplyhealth, commented, “With sick days on the rise and significant NHS waiting times, businesses are increasingly turning to private health cover so their staff can be seen quickly and stay healthy at work. This also helps attract and retain employees, reducing the financial burden of recruitment. We welcome the recent government focus on increasing workplace health support, which is crucial for reversing the workplace sickness epidemic and sustaining the NHS for more complex treatments.”

Farouk Mangera, Group People Director at Maria Mallaband Care Group, emphasised the importance of supporting employee health: “Our industry is nothing if not for our people. With the healthcare sector significantly affected by sickness absence, it’s vital for employers to support their workforce’s health. We implement health plans and encourage easy access to medical appointments to prevent long-term issues. The benefits of workplace health support are evident in enhancing our colleagues’ wellbeing and fulfilling our core values of caring.”

The call for more comprehensive workplace health support is clear as businesses strive to maintain productivity and support their employees amidst the ongoing NHS crisis.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.