Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Importance Of Vascular Screenings

Vascular screenings check for fatty deposits that build up in blood vessels. Fatty deposits in blood vessels, generally seen in people over age 40, increase a person's risk of developing vascular diseases such as kidney diseases, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Vascular screenings are important; according to the NHS, one fifth of UK hospital admissions are related to vascular diseases. (1) Screenings will help prevent heart attacks and strokes by alerting people to their risk level and allowing them to make diet and lifestyle changes, start cholesterol reducing medications or join smoking cessation programs that will reduce their risk.

Anyone with a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, people who smoke or people who are obese and physically inactive are at risk for developing vascular diseases. Vascular diseases are insidious, developing in a stealthy manner to eventually greatly reduce a person's quality of life and leave them with a debilitating condition that simple lifestyle changes cannot repair. Vascular screenings are highly recommended as a preventative measure, helping people to avoid a lifetime of poor health and disability. Vascular diseases are also fatal diseases. Combined, they are responsible for 36 percent of the deaths in the UK (2), making prevention vital.

The NHS defines obesity as "very overweight with a high degree of body fat." The University of Birmingham calls UK obese rates alarming, with more than 20 percent of UK citizens considered obese. (3) Smoking rates are equally alarming; the 10 million adult cigarette smokers in Great Britain are equal to one-sixth of the UK's total population. (4) If some of the UK's smokers quit smoking after having a vascular screening, not only would deaths from cardiovascular disease be reduced, deaths from respiratory illnesses and certain cancers would also drop. Smoking, obesity and a lack of regular exercise contribute to a wide variety of illnesses and chronic conditions, not just vascular diseases so vascular screenings could contribute to overall better health in the UK if the results encourage people to adopt healthier habits.

Vascular screenings are very important yet relatively simple and straightforward. Blood pressure, height and weight are checked, a family health history is taken and there is a quick blood test. GP's use the results to discuss the steps needed to reduce their patient's risk of developing one or more vascular diseases.

Whilst the vast majority of adults realize being severely overweight, smoking and having unchecked high blood pressure are dangerous to their health, there are many people who do not take the necessary steps to reduce their risk of developing a vascular disease. A vascular screening can be a wake-up call, providing personalised advice to individuals who ignore general health recommendations.


1. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2008/04April/Pages/Vascularcheck.aspx
2. http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/long-term-conditions/vascular-screening-programme-moves-focus-to-early-prevention/1137683.article
3. http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/mds/centres/obesity/obesity-uk/index.aspx
4. http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_93.pdf

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why PMI?

Not everyone has private medical insurance (PMI). However, it's something that while many people haven't given much thought to it, they'd in fact they'd stand to gain a lot from the benefits it provides.

And a recent Express article makes this point very well indeed - taking the topical subject of Movember, they quote figures from one PMI provider who said that in 2012, fourteen per cent of all its private medical claims involved prostate and testicular cancer.

Part of the challenge for the PMI industry is, of course, that when you're 100% healthy you may be unlikely to think about medical cover. But as one MD of a health insurance provider points out in the article, when you're in 'fine fettle' is the best time to think about a policy rather than wait until you have a problem with your health.

The price of health cover of course depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Your age - and of course the longer you leave it, the higher the cost of premiums will be
  • What cover you take out. Policies are modular so you don't need to pay for anything you don't require. This can mean that basic cover levels may surprise you with how inexpensive they can be.
  • Which provider you use. Worth shopping around and getting the policy and provider that you feel is the best for you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

PMI providers and claims stats

I was recently reading an article on the subject of whether private medical insurance providers should publish their stats for declined claims.

It's an interesting question - and in this age of big data and openness, on the face of it this seems like a decent enough idea.

According to the article, there's only one provider of PMI who currently makes these figures available - although it points out that declined stats for other areas of insurance such as protection, it's commonplace to do so.

It's an interesting area - and publishing more information on declinatures could conceivably help drive sales - especially when you look at some of the various reasons that claims don't make it. In 2012, UP reported that for the year prior, nearly a half (46%) of instances where a claim was turned down, this was due to the claim paperwork not being completed.

Why could this be a sales driver? Well one of the reasons we take out PMI is the peace of mind factor. And it's reassuring to know that claims decline instances are generally down to very simple reasons such as incomplete paperwork, as well as things like making claims for things that weren't included on the policy.

However, it's this peace of mind thing that's important - and as one broker points out - declined claims in PMI are actually pretty rare, since if the policy has been sold to the customer correctly they'll know what they are covered for.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

Heart health is important to living a quality life. However, heart disease is affecting a growing number of the population. This disease, although linked to genetics, can be prevented or reversed in its early stages. Obtaining a heart disease risk assessment could be instrumental in the prevention of arterial plaque build-up.

What are some of the contributing factors of heart disease? Smoking, certain saturated fats, high cholesterol foods, high blood pressure, and elevated sugar levels due to diabetes are some of the main contributing factors to the development of heart disease. When plaque begins to build up inside the walls of the arteries from excessive fat intake, heart damage can also occur. Over time, the effects of plaque in the arteries can be lethal. Blockages can prevent adequate flow of blood through the heart, resulting in heart attack or stroke.

It is important to remain optimistic about treatment. Heart disease has been found to be reversible in its early stages. Adopting healthier eating habits, an active lifestyle, and habits by which to manage stress are three main methods for reversing your heart disease.

So we have prepared a utility list of items that can reduce and even reverse the risk of heart related illnesses so without further ado:

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

This type of fat is founding fish and has been proven to reduce the risk of sudden death without evidence of pre-existing cardiovascular issues.  Doctors recommend that oily fish should be eaten twice a week to help reduce the risk of heart issues.

Vitamin D

It has been proposed that doubling your intake of vitamin D can significantly reduce risk of mortality not only for cardio issues but for all medical causes.  However, the Journal of American Geriatric Society found in 2010 that is more pronounced when dealing with heart issues.


Magnesium has a major role in helping to protect the heart from disease.  In 2010, the Journal of Biomedical Sciences published people who excrete higher levels of magnesium were less likely to have cardiovascular problems, which clearly indicates its protective role.

Natural Compounds Which May Unclog Your Arteries


Pomegranate has been found to have reversed artery thickness by up to 29% in one year in some cases.  Additionally, this fruit reduces blood pressure, reduces infection and reduces inflammation.


This amino acid not not only halts the progression of athersclerosis but can also have a reversal effect on pathologies associated with the process - essentially declogging arteries.


Garlic is a wonderful herb with many healthy properties including reducing risk factors which are associated with arteriosclerosis, which is a thickening and hardening of the arteries, which in turn reduces the risk of a heart attack or a stroke.  There are 150 diseases which garlic is known to have potential in treating and preventing health issues.

If you are ever in any doubt about your heart health contact your GP who will arrange a heart disease risk assessment for you to find out what the problem is.  There are lots of articles like this online for help and advice so get as much information as you possibly can, it will take a load of your mind.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Health in an ageing society

When we hit milestone birthdays, for many of us it's often a reminder of how, when we were younger, we just kind of thought we'd be young forever. Over time though, the inevitability of getting older becomes more and more apparent - it could be the appearance of grey hairs, wrinkles where once there was smoothness. Getting older is just part of life, and healthy living is a priority - no matter how many years we've been around for.

As a society, though, we're ageing. A lot of this is down to very positive things - better understanding of nutrition, greater wealth, and advances in medical and drug technology have meant that life expectancy is on the increase. For governments this will be a challenge as time progresses - and changes are already in place to help make sure people have more in older age. One example of this is the alteration to the retirement age - so while retirement was hitherto compulsory, there's now no fixed retirement age, although in certain jobs there may be one for health and safety reasons.

And as time passes there are bound to be big changes in the way that health in the UK is managed - specifically as regards care for the elderly. As this UK parliament page on the ageing population indicates, the number of centenarians - of projections prove accurate - is going to increase fast enough to make them quickest growing age group in the country. And to think that just a few short decades ago reaching triple figures was an unusual enough birthday that you'd get a personal message from the monarch.

The issue of ageing made the headlines again this week click here for a BBC news story on the topic, which quotes a survey result showing over three quarters of respondents believe that government 'isn't ready to cope with changing demographics'.

For more on health and wellbeing in this topic area, check out the Age UK charity's site.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dental phobia - it's not unusual

Pardon the pun - but does the thought of the dentist chair set your teeth on edge? If it does, you're definitely not alone. In fact the most recent UK adult dental health survey shows that nearly half of all people over the age of 18 in the UK have a moderate to strong fear of dental treatment. Which in many ways isn't surprising. Think especially of older adults (yes, that'll probably be me, then!) who were brought up in the old days when patient centred treatment hadn't yet been invented Things are much more seren now, I can promise you that. And much less daunting. Yes, in the old days many of the tools and machines used in the dental surgery were whizzy, buzzy, and not a little scary. And all this before the days of dental care being associated with the glamorous white-toothed Kanye Wests of this era and more to do with disconcerting pictures shown in the school classroom showing the unspeakable horror of what not caring for your teeth could end up doing to your mouth.

 One such story still gives me the jitters. Possible urban myth - but still definitely a dental (ahem) parable. Yep, it pains me to even type this. The boy who brushed his teeth too much, so much he wore the enamel off them. I mean, yikes. Just ... yikes. Anyway the survey also indicated that women with dental phobia were six times more likely to be disturbed by pictures of dental treatment scenes than women who didn't have dental phobia. Which makes sense, really. Not being dental phobic myself, I'd have to admit that dental treatment pictures wouldn't delight my inner aesthete either. Or make me smile.

 How do you manage a dental phobia though? Luckily these days there are various ways - and there are many dentists with a 'gentle dentistry' focus - professionals who have a lot of experience and can help patients through treatment.

Then there's also the cost of treatment which can be managed by getting dental health insurance - UK provider AXA PPP healthcare also have a lot of dental health info on their site, and NHS Choices also has info on dental phobia. Luckily, despite the prevalance of discomfort at the thought of dental work, there's a lot of information and support available these days.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Healthcare Pathway Member Journey

This clip shows the Healthcare Pathway, which is an innovative approach that combines healthcare with healthy living. See for yourself here:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Healthy holidays

Everytime we go on holiday, there's always a big checklist of things to do and things to remember - and it's probably one of the reasons why many of us get a little bit stressy in the run-up to a trip abroad. And depending on how much of a compulsive list-maker you tend to be, it can seem like a neverending series of check-boxes.

Of course beyond the relevant print offs for the flight, and your passport, nothing's really essential, is it? Well despite our conscientiousness in making sure that we've cancelled the newspaper delivery and packed the mosquito repellant, it seems that many of us often forget one thing that truly is essential - and that's travel insurance.

In 2011, the Telegraph reported that four in ten holidays were uninsured, while earlier this year the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) stated that this has since risen to 24%. That's an awful lot of people without medical cover.

There are various possible reasons for the lessening uptake of travel cover. One reason that's been put forward is that the stringency of the rules surrounding selling it has meant fewer outlets offering it. ABTA's study also found that some people forego it in the belief that it's too expensive - and the number who cite expense has risen since 2011.

Another reason cited was the belief among some travellers that the European Health Insurance Card is equivalent to medical cover when in fact it only covers the basics and doesn't extend to repatriation costs. Incidentally, medical repatriation for those not covered isn't cheap - this BBC article from March 2013 reports that "air ambulances cost between £15,000 and £30,000 depending on the length of the flight". Amazingly, one of the other reasons given by people travelling uninsured was the mistaken belief that the UK government would pay for their treatment if they fell ill or had an accident.

One thing to remember regarding travel insurance is that when you get a quote online it's often on the assumption that you're registered with a GP - so make sure you know your small print before heading off.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dental health and general health (and PMI)

Of all the healthy habits that we kind of do on autopilot, looking after our teeth must be one of the most automatic. After all, brushing is something that we do late at night be fore bed when we're sleepy, and agin in the morning when we may also be a little bit half asleep, I know I am every day between the alarm going off and being halfway to work!

Toothbrushing is of course only part of dental health - along with making sure to avoid too many sugary foods. It's not actually the sugar in sugary foods that causes teeth to rot but the acid produced when bacteria feed on the sugar. This is why it's better to have a sweet or two with a meal than to eat sweets all day. it's about reducing your exposure to sugar. Then there are other foods that are tooth- healthy such as milk and cheese which provide the calcium required for healthy strong bones and teeth.

Oral health goes beyond just the teeth too, with the periodontal tissues and structures being important too. And while there's not (yet?) a proven causal link between gum health and heart health, it's definitely better to have healthy gums. The belief surrounding the link between bad gums and an unhealthy heart is that it may be to do with lifestyle factors that have detrimental effects on both. In other words, rather than than them being causally linked, healthy living keeps both in better shape.

This week the health insurance company AXA PPP healthcare are holding a dental health chat live with their resident expert. Click link here for details of the question and answer session which is open to all and you can ask anything on the general topic of dental health.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

PMI and younger people

Demographics. It's a difficult word - not in terms of its definition but in terms of what it means to study demographics.

For instance, if you  were to consult focus groups, take surveys, do consumer research and so on, then make an advert targeted at someone who seems to be the 'average' UK resident, then it would appeal to few - since nobody really actually is the average - or, indeed, has 2.4 children.

But there is a broader use of demographics that can really show starkly how society is changing. Take for instance the numbers of young people in tertiary education and compare it to 50 years ago. Have we got smarter as a society? Some would say definitely not. But then, if you look at the prevalence of computer use and the far higher amount of data we all come into contact with on a daily basis, there's no doubt that the human brain has changed over the last century. Just look at the Flynn Effect - whatever's happening, in terms of IQ test results we're becoming less dumb all the time!

All of which leads me to an interesting story in HI magazine recently which highlights the fact that there could be a big demographic challenge within the PMI industry. According to the professor of health policy at a top London university, wile the NHS will survive, 'the welfare state in its current form' is likely to change and with it provide opportunities for PMI. One of the objectives PMI as a whole should aim for, said the professor, is to increase the number of customers under age 40.

Of course, this is partly a question of economics, and with youth unemployment still far too high (although falling) there are fewer people in work and therefore fewer who can make the choice of purchasing PMI. But come boom time, it could provide a demographic health transformation.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mental health update

There have been various articles in the health pages over the past few days which go over some of the more salient points raised by the recently released Office for National Statistics report "Measuring National Wellbeing".

A couple of the most interesting statistics were those regarding mental health, with 'some indication of mild to moderate mental ill health' affecting

  • 23% of those who were out of work
  • 15% of those in employment
This is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the number for those in work who are suffering from mental health issues is around the same as the figure that's already quoted by the mental health charity Mind to highlight the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression within the workplace.

It's been well reported that stress levels have risen since the start of the economic downturn, and last year stress admissions at hospitals were reportedly up sharply year on year. Workplace stress is something that we can all help manage on individual terms as well as along organisational lines.

The ONS' figures may seem high, but one of the biggest advances in mental health has been the destigmatisation of mental health problems, meaning people are more likely to seek a diagnosis than they would have if the more supportive context wasn't there. On top of this, it's likely that diagnoses are more accurate than they would have been in previous generations. Many workplaces also provide counselling services operated by 3rd party services to help staff with issues they may be facing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system is a thing of wonder - the accumulation of billions of years of evolution. Amazingly, despite our massively complex structural nature, we still share 30% of our DNA with the humble lettuce Or so I read, anyway!  Musculoskeletal disorders also account for a large number of sickness absence, so it's worth knowing a little about it. This clip goes over some of the basics and for some more info check out the NHS Musculoskeletal Zone.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Smoking and health

We all know smoking's bad for the health, right? The statistics are just too clear on this for anyone to seriously take any other position than to accept that - whether or not you smoke - it would be far, far better for the health to be a non-smoker.

The thing about smoking, though, is that for those who're addicted, giving up can be a tricky business - and there's now a whole industry built up around smoking cessation - from nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) such as

  • Patches
  • Inhalers
  • Gum
  • Nasal spray
  • Inhalers
  • Lozenges/ tablets
These products can help people find a kind of 'bridge/ between smoking and being smoke free - by taking the edge off the nicotine cravings while also getting people out of the habit of performing the actions of smoking. This last one is particularly important since it means that those giving up smoking are able to form new patterns of behaviour and weaken the smoking triggers they used to have, such as after a meal.

Giving up smoking, as the smoking cessation literature often says, is a bit of an event - one that smokers are encouraged to set a date for, and thereafter not smoke. And while we'd all like to see a world where there's nothing other than the very real fact that it's unhealthy being enough in itself to get people to give up, there are many who don't.

And then there's the in-between - the people who may not feel able to give up immediately and outright. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have issued new guidelines. These guidelines are a bit of a departure from what we've seen before - and highlight how smokers can lessen the harm done for people who

"may not be able (or do not want) to stop smoking in one step
may want to stop smoking, without necessarily giving up nicotine
may not be ready to stop smoking, but want to reduce the amount they smoke"

Essentially the guideline looks at safe uses of NRT alongside reduced smoking to lessen health risks. See the link to NICE above for more info 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Blood pressure and health

Perhaps one day in the (not too far off) future self monitoring of blood pressure will be done by some kind of app, or at the very least not mean using any expensive equipment.

In the meantime though, some exciting progress has been made by researchers from Edinburgh University, who have been looking at the links between self monitoring and the effect it has on blood pressure with a portable kit that can be used at home to take measurements. Over a few months, hundreds of people who had high blood pressure took part in a trial, using the 'telemonitoring' system.

Interestingly, it was found that the the people in the trial who had access to the self-monitoring equipment found that their blood pressure was reduced further than the group who didn't. The researchers believe this may be to do with the fact that those who could monitor their own blood pressure would be more likely to use medication for their condition, presumably due to seeing the positive effects on a regular basis via the system.

Interestingly, though, using the telemonitoring equipment - while it had the positive affects mentioned above - didn't have much effect on the lifestyles of those in the trial - salt consumption and so forth. The researchers recommend carrying out a longer scale test over a bigger time period to see the results on blood pressure and the cost-effectiveness of the monitoring.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Office health update

It wouldn't take an HR or health and safety expert to enumerate the many positive changes within the workplace which have occurred in the past 50 years.

Quite often, for instance, you'll be watching an old black and white movie and see people in the workplace, smoking at their desk. And it's pretty incredible to consider that this was once the norm. Seeing it on screen in this era though and the thought of a smoke filled workplace just kind of makes your skin crawl.

Other improvements in workplace health include more general things such as healthy eating which are often backed up by government campaigns designed to get people thinking about e.g. getting the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables in their daily diet. A lot of larger workplaces with in-house catering facilities will also place focus on serving up healthy meals or at the least have a healthy option for those who are aiming to have the most nutritious lunch they can.

Promoting workplace mental health is something that also would have to count as a big improvement - although there is still work to be done in this area. People are much more aware now though just how widespread things like stress can be - and how acknowledging it if it affects us doesn't mean weakness, rather the opposite. The days of the 'stiff upper lip' have gone. In fact a lot of organisations now offer employee assistance programmes which provide staff with support and help people manage when they find themselves in difficult circumstances such as bereavement or divorce.

Corporate health insurance is another health improvement - something that is offered by a great many more employers than in the past - it's also become something of recruitment tool that helps attract the best employees since it is a very popular benefit - with the added advantage of potentially reducing sickness absence within organisations.

In the health news this week it's been reported that open plan offices may not be the best for health and motivation. A couple of studies have been mentioned in the news reports, one of which suggests that people in this type of office have more sick days. This could be the case since it may be that a single open plan office with air conditioning could mean greater exposure to any cold and flu virus bacteria that are going around, although it has been pointed out that the survey had the respondents self-reporting days off - which would have been from memory and therefore subject to a higher level of inaccuracy than from written records.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eating disorders and health

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can affect people from all walks of life and despite the fact that the incidence of anorexia and bulimia is higher among the female population, people of either sex can be affected by eating disorders.

According to the mental health charity Mind, there are no easily identifiable or definable reasons as to why eating disorders develop, but the charity say that a common factor among many who have a disorder is low self-esteem. Mind point out that not only can people of any age or background and of either sex develop an eating disorder, there are as many as a million people in the UK who are affected, so it;s important to know that if you have an eating disorder, you're not alone.

Mind also have a useful page on how to get help for an eating disorder, which details the range of different treatments that are available plus the steps to go through if you're looking for support and advice. The first thing they advise is that you see your doctor who can then make sure that any weight loss or other symptoms aren't connected to any other underlying health problems.

The various forms of help available include talking therapies, where the patient receives counselling. Talking therapies are so-called because they focus on helping people discuss and address negative feelings. Often it's really just applied as a slightly more modern/ descriptive term for counselling. Having said this, counselling is just one type of talking treatment - the other types include pyschotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

This week AXA PPP healthcare are holding a live discussion on hidden eating disorders where their resident expert will be on hand to answer your questions. The live chat takes place between 11am and 1pm on Thursday 16th May. If your question relates to any aspect of eating disorders such as diagnosis or treatment, then head along to the live chat and you'll be able to ask the expert in person.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Healthy habits - spring into summer

The weather may not quite have made its mind up yet, but summer's on its way - at least as far as the calendar is concerned.

So what better time to think about getting into a new health regime than now, when even if the sun isn't exactly shining, at least it's light til later an hopefully a bit warmer than it was during the still quite chilly months of March and April.

There are lots of ways to look at maximising health and wellbeing at this time of year:

Diet. While pies and pastries and so on maybe bring a little bit of comfort during the colder months, it's always important to remember that these foods can be high in saturated fat. So when the the summar arrives it's often a good thing to jettison any of the unhealthies from the diet and get stuck into some good healthy summer foods. Salads with olive oil and tomato. Delicious seafood dishes on holiday. Lots of avocado, onion, beans, fruit, lean cold meats - summer really is a great time for eating. And if you have the space and weather for alfresco dining - even better.

Exercise. Summer may not mean you have to change  anything about your exercise regime - but if it's hot there's the option of going for a swim instead of running. Or if it's a rainy summer you can get to the gym and see what exercises and courses it offers to try out new physical activities.

Wellbeing. Summer often makes people feel generally brighter and happier. So why not capitalise on the happy summer feelings by taking up mindfulness meditiation, which is believed by experts to decrease stress and anxiety while possibly even having positive effects on the brains' "white matter" nerve fibres. other general wellbeing activities could include joining a club that takes part in outdoor activities such as rambling, or maybe taking up a new sport.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Healthy working and UK stress levels

There are more workplace health resources available these days than at any time in the past. From the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development to the Health and Safety Executive, as well as the many providers of in-house training plus employee assistance programmes and so on, there's a wide range of products and services dedicated solely to workplace wellbeing and employee development.

And it all just goes to show how far the workplace has evolved - not to mention the pace with which it continues to evolve. If you look at episodes of, say, Life On Mars, you get a picture of how the workplace used to be - albeit in a somewhat caricature form - with all its pies, chips, lunchtime pints and almost opaque fugs of blue-grey cigarette smoke, it might as well be Mars (or another planet, at any rate) compared with today.

But we're not without our challenges right now - and as the recession showed, the prevailing economic situation can have an effect on the number of people suffering stress, and the levels to which they're experiencing it.

Luckily, it looks like we've (narrowly) avoided a triple-dip recession - but there are still concerns for wellbeing around stress levels, and longer working hours. Workplace health strategies are undoubtedly playing their part in making the situation better - but in terms of the road ahead, how much will still need to be done to fully address the issue of stress management?

New research suggests that stress could potentially lead to heart disease - which is genuinely concerning, especially in light of stress often being described as epidemic. However, the NHS and other health sites advise that the biggest dangers from stress come from dangerous coping mechanisms (smoking, drinking, overeating) that some people use to counteract it. But if a link is ever proven between stress and coronary heart disease, it will undoubtedly mean redoubled efforts to minimise it in the workplace to an even greater extent than now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cancer care and the the things that make a difference

Very often when you're ill, it's the wee small things that can make a big difference. Think about the comforting soup a loved one brought last time you had flu, or a favourite film that cheered you up when you were under the weather. This interesting clip shows that the same is equally true for people who are undergoing treatment for cancer - that the little things can have the biggest significance.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mental health - removing stigma

Think, for a second, about just how far we've come in terms of how mental health is regarded.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, it was more or less something that just wasn't openly discussed. And common mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression - while they were just as widespread then as they are now - were something that few people would have spoken to their doctor about.

These days it's all changed dramatically. And well-known people from all sorts of glamorous occupations have talked candidly about their experiences. From the high-level government director of communications to the world-famous chat show host, nobody is immune from mental health problems, and the fact that people in jobs as high profile as these have shared so openly has really made a difference.

In the Guardian's health professionals network pages there is an article highlighting how much this is the case. It says:

According to independent evaluation of the campaign's first four years, people with mental health problems are experiencing less stigma and discrimination, are feeling more empowered and are enjoying more social contact

 However, according to the article, it seems that attitudes among mental health professionals may not be changing in line with the prevailing trend. The article does point out though that the recent Time To Change mental health campaign was aimed at the public rather than health professionals. There may, though, be other more complex factors which are discussed in some detail within the article itself. So click the link above and check it out.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No smoking day - Wednesday 13th March

It's that time of year when although the clocks haven't yet sprung forward for spring and summer, it is getting appreciably lighter by the day, and the almost oppressive darkness of winter is thankfully behind us for another year.

So what better time to think about various health and wellbeing matters such as getting more exercise, eating the right healthy foods and aiming to get to the right weight - and also giving up smoking (for those among us who smoke)?

Today is No Smoking Day, and given that it falls on a working day, we thought we'd look today at how smoking has changed during the working day - as well as health in general - since the first no smoking day 30 years ago.

Back in the olden days, people had far more opportunities to smoke during the average 24 hour period. It didn't matter if you were on a bus or train, in a cafe or restaurant or at work - there would have been someplace to smoke, and in a lot of cases it didn't even have to be a smoking area as many places allowed smoking no matter where you were sitting.

Attitudes to health (and mental health) have changed greatly over the years and the workplace has seen many changes too - with continued focus on health and safety legislation as well as far greater use of workplace wellbeing policies and health insurance for business from corporate to small and medium business types - often offered as a staff benefit.

It's interesting just how far we've come over the past three decades - and of course the number of smokers is down from what it was all that time ago. Although it is difficult to predict how that one is going to change over time - we're now down to only a fifth of the population smoking, but it would be likely that among them are the most addicted, the least likely to give up - so decline rates may slow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The health of the nation

There are so many health stories in the media that it would simply be impossible to keep up with them on a a daily basis. Even using news aggregators and bookmarking all your favourite newspaper sites' health news pages, there's a mountain of health stories being published every single day.

One upshot of this is that many of us need to quickly select the stories that interest us and disregard the other 3 or 4 thousand articles available that day.

Sometimes this is actually easier than it seems - for instance there may be 150 articles about a new medical breakthrough, but little would be gained from reading every story on it. Usually, in fact, you can get the gist from scanning one broadsheet article, or a more detailed insight by reading and absorbing the same article in full.

But for the less health-centred reader - the general reader - what happens is that the headlines quite naturally grab the attention, and as such give the impression that things are a certain way. For instance, often you'd be forgiven for thinking that the UK isn't in a great state, healthwise - what with all the column inches on obesity and other health challenges.

It is of course true that the UK like many western nations has its problems with the prevalence of obesity. But on the whole it should also be remembered (and celebrated) that we've come a long way over the years in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, and so on.

My suggestion would be that we have a yearly health of the nation survey based around 15 - 20 key measurement points, so that we get a more 360 degree view of the nation's health rather than being overly focussed on the negatives.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mental health update: stress survey

There were quite a lot of news stories about stress levels in the UK last year. And one of the most significant ones was the news that hospital admissions for stress related ilnesses had risen sharply year on year - by 7%.

One of the possible reasons for this that has been suggested in the recession. This could well be the case for such a noticeable rise, but on the other hand it's possible that as we become more open about mental health, people generally will be more willing to seek a diagnosis if they feel affected by stress.

Companies these days are also embracing mental health promotion more and more, as part of their workplace wellbeing programmes - alongside offering things like EAPs and business health care insurance. It's a very different world from the times when mental health at work simply wasn't a matter that was ever discussed.

But while so much good work is being done in terms of changing attitudes and drawing up wellbeing policies for the workplace, are we seeing the benefits yet in terms of stress levels?

This week yet another survey was published on the subject of stress, and the results are interesting. This one was  a little bit different in that the volunteers for the study actually had their body temperature recorded at different pints throughout the week. Apparently when you're stressed, your temperature increases a bit. Interestingly, Wednesday was found to be the least stressful day of the week, while Friday scored quite highly - this is believed to be down to the fact that on Fridays many of us have to get the decks cleared before the two day weekend break.

A spokesman for the survey's author said that many people in the UK are working under "dangerous" levels of stress and highlighted the stress reduction value of ensuring employees getting a full lunch break and maybe even doing exercises in the office.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The future of healthcare

If we compare the healthcare of today with its previous self of, say, 100 years ago, there is a mountain of difference between them.

Just think of some of the breakthroughs we've seen over the last century - from heart transplantation to the discovery of penicillin, we haven't half come a long way. And healthcare has of course benefited massively from all these scientific and medical advances. In fact, to someone from a hundred years ago, today's hospital and many of the various treatments and operations it carries out would seem miraculous.

But where will we be 100 years from now? Hopefully things  like MRSA will have been consigned to the history e-books. Maybe, just maybe, some of the diseases that today are widespread could be a thing of the past, too.

Some of today's technologies - ones that aren't currently used in health services - could also be developed to play a part in patient treatment. Imagine a practitioner being able to three dimensionally print drugs for a patient. This may seem far-fetched but in fact this process is already being pioneered.

And how will hospitals look in the future - it's difficult not to imagine them being more like hotels in many respects, as treatments become less invasive and hospital stays shorter, it's possible to envisage a trip to the hospital - if not actually fun, then definitely something more pleasant than the bleachy and spartan post-Victorian hospitals of the early 20th century.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Long term sickness absence - the business view

Long term sickness absence is something that many businesses have to deal with as a fact of life. It can happen for many  reasons, and in some cases people fall out of work and onto benefits as a result. However, it's been proven by studies that work is in general good for our physical and mental health - so sometimes there are situations where people can return to work but with an altered work set up to accommodate for their condition. This could include things like a reduced schedule or part time hours, or if the person's job involves physical work that they're currently unable to carry out due to their illness, they can sometimes be given work within the organisation that doesn't involve any lifting or carrying - perhaps completing administration or desk oriented work instead.

A recent survey - reported in the news this week - shows that only about half of employers feel that they're 'well equipped' to deal with long term sickness absence. Anyone looking to find out some of the basics regarding sickness absence can go to the Health & Safety Executive website http://www.hse.gov.uk/sicknessabsence/index.htm and there's also info available there on the fit note.

Last year an independent Sickness Absence Review - Health At Work - was announced by the government to take a look at how the system can be improved, and ways in which it currently fails some people. There is extensive info on the review available at the Department of Work and pensions (DWP) website here.

Small business health insurance is available from providers such as AXA PPP healthcare business cover and policies for organisations are affordable and easy to manage - you can choose the level of cover for employees so that you're not needing to pay for anything that you don't require. Employee assistance programmes are another way to help ensure your business is doing all it can to minimise sickness absence.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Data and workplace wellbeing

There's a very interesting article over at Personnel Today that I'd like to direct your attention to today. the post is from 2012 (but the topic is just as relevant in 2013...)

Entitled Using Data To Direct Employee Wellbeing Initiatives, the article centres on essentially what is the return on investment for companies who spend money on  staff health and wellbeing. It makes perfect sense, really - if the oft quoted line about happy and healthy staff being true, then it's going to show up in various data from staff satisfaction studies to productivity rates and sickness absence levels. Of course, if there was a case they don't it's not necessarily the case that the line about happy and healthy staff being inaccurate - it could well be that the measures brought about and invested in to improve it were in some way ineffective.

In fact, the link - according to Personnel Today's report - has been proven in various studies, and the gains in productivity 'far outweigh' the investment. of course, for bigger businesses the challenge is how to implement and manage the measuring of all this data. the article goes into thorough detail about all this, taking in things like gathering, tracking and aggregating the data.

When you think about health and wellbeing and its relation to productivity, it all seems so simple and common sense. But the measuring of it might be that little bit more complex. However, as we move into an age of informatics, it could well be that more and more organisations will become very quickly convinced that health, wellbeing and employee engagement is the direction in which to travel to stay competitive. And if it also has an effect on the bottom line, the case becomes one that few will want to refuse.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The dental life

In many ways, our dental record - if we look back on it - is a bit like going back through time.

Think back to the time that you went for your first dental appointment as a child, and you may remember the dentist's surgery - hopefully - as an interesting new place to be. Then on through the school years - braces for some, cavities for others. Plaque disclosing tablets to show us just how important it is to brush the teeth. Bubblegum-flavoured fluoride toothpaste, and so on.

Then when you become an adult the whole dental thing is much less of a novelty and fades slightly from our consciousness. Brushing the teeth and going for the dental checkup are done almost on autopilot. It's only when something unexpected happens that we're jolted back into remembering just how important a dental surgery visit can be. Whether it's root canal treatment, difficulty with a wisdom tooth, or getting a cap replaced - a job well done (and without too much discomfort in the chair) is a reminder of how valuable the dentist's work is.

Of course, it comes at a price - a bit of toothache leading to a checkup can in many cases then lead on to hundreds of pounds worth of work needing done. And often it's work that - however necessary, becomes an unforeseen and immediate expense. Getting cover from a dental insurance UK provider is a good way of helping make sure that unexpected dental bills won't be a problem.

And if you've not been to the dentist in a while, you might be surprised at just how reassuringly modern and unthreatening they look these days!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Healthy January!

January has pretty much become - albeit unofficially - national health month. Maybe it's all all that rich food I ate during the festive period - three different types of Christmas cake, full Christmas dinners at various venues, and a few too many chocolates. yes, that is likely to be what it is.

Anyway, come January and it's not even a New Year's resolution type thing. I just don't want to eat anything other than healthy stir fries, a nice bit of fish, some bean stews - and even, believe it or not, some nice cold salads.

Sadly my proposed - and perhaps overly ambitious - exercise routine didn't quite happen. Or rather it did, but is currently on something of a hiatus.

If you're in the same boat - or similar, at least, then this clip is handy as it's fro exercise beginners and a reminder of just how accessible exercise can be - not to mention very good for us too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Small business and sickness absence

Every year a lot of days are lost to sickness absence – in fact the figure for 2011 was quoted as an incredible 131 million. Interestingly, though, this figure does seem to be falling slightly as the years pass. This is possibly down to improved treatments for certain illnesses as well as better diagnostic methods becoming available over time.
However, long term sickness remains a problem within UK business and in 20111 the government called for an independent review into sickness absence. One of the main things that the report found was that in many cases, there were instances of people who were off work with stress or manageable musculoskeletal  problems such as a sore back , who became signed off work more or less indefinitely. Then there were cases of people who fell out of employment due to long term sickness and became benefits claimants.
The report identified instances where people could in fact have been assisted in returning to work for instance by altering the nature of the tasks carried out. The government has now proposed an independent advisory service that will help assess individual cases where people are on sick leave for over four months and also help people on long term sick leave find a role that is appropriate to the tasks they’d be able to carry out
The new independent advisory service could – along with the health cover that many employers purchase from providers such as AXAPPP business health insurance, become an important factor in workplace wellbeing and the minimising of sickness absence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter of novovirus 2012/13

You can hardly log in to facebook or read a newspaper without hearing some quite terrible stories about the novovirus bug that's going around right now.

Over the festive season there were stories of otherwise healthy and active families being laid low in their entirety by this widespread microbial nasty.

Known in the UK as the Winter Vomiting bug, it's a fairly widely recognised name, but anyone following the news this year - or even just overhearing conversations about it - is bound to be wondering why it's taken such a hold this year.

The answer - according to this BBC report, is down to it being a new strain of the bug that's lasted longer into the Antipodean summer than usual. So now you know ...