Buyer’s guide to corporate health screening

Employees can be screened for a variety of health problems, and the investment pays off by preventing potential sickness absence and making staff feel cared for, says Ben Jones

Many employees often feel compelled to soldier on when they feel unwell, and may discover they have a serious health condition only when it is too late and harder to treat. For an employer, this could mean a lengthy sickness absence, which is both costly and counter-productive.

Health screening products enable employers to identify potential problems by keeping a check on the health of their workforce. Screenings can also give staff peace of mind about their wellbeing.

What is covered by a screening varies greatly depending on the provider, ranging from a simple blood pressure check and lifestyle advice to a full-body scan, including MRI scan, ECG and blood test.

Tailored screening

The time a screening will last will also depend on what is covered, from brief chats with a doctor on lifestyle issues to full-day checks for a variety of possible health conditions. They are also often tailored to gender or age range. For example, a bowel cancer test is often recommended only for those aged 45 and over. Risk-specific tests can also be conducted.

The cost of health assessments varies, depending on the length and detail of the tests. For example, Bupa’s Advanced Health check, which lasts two and a half hours, comes in at £649, while its hour-long Female Health assessment is £299.

To undergo a screening, staff can either visit a provider’s dedicated health centre or medical professionals can attend their workplace to provide on-site assessment. Dr Peter Mace, assistant medical director at Bupa, says: “We are getting people to understand their health risks and what they can do about those health risks.”

Focus on prevention

For employers, the focus is on prevention, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and advice on issues such as nutrition, musculoskeletal problems and abating stress. Provider Nuffield Health changed its policy on corporate health to adopt this approach following an in-house review in 2006. Nick Bird, the company’s business development manager for clinical products and services, says: “It was about making people feel empowered and encouraged to make changes to their own lifestyle. We have employed physiologists, who are specialists in understanding how the body works, to talk to people about their lifestyles.”

But Gary Barnes, business development manager at Axa Icas, says that for health screening to be effective, its advantages need to be communicated well to employees. “You could spend a reasonable amount of money telling fit people they are fit,” he says. “It has value only if you can get people to engage with it through good communication.”

The tax status of health screening as a benefit has been surrounded by some uncertainty in recent years. In the past, the perk was typically funded by the employer and restricted to groups of staff on the basis of their length of service or seniority within the organisation.

The government sought to change the regulations in 2007, introducing a condition that the benefit should be available to all staff on broadly similar terms in order to be exempt from tax. However, under the terms of the Finance Act 2009, from 6 April last year, employer-provided annual health screening and medical checks that take place no more than once a year are exempt from tax even if employers do not offer them on generally similar terms to all employees.

Key facts

What is health screening?

Health screening products provide a selection of tests, which can include: full-body MRI scans, ultrasound, ECG, blood and urine tests, fitness checks, height and weight measurements, blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests, and lifestyle and health discussions with a consultant. These are designed to identify potential problems before they manifest themselves as serious issues.

Where can employers get more information?

A list of health screening centres and details of the benefits of screening are available.

Details on the tax status of health screening benefits are available from the government.

Who are the main providers?

Axa Icas, Blossom Healthcare, Bupa, Capita Health Solutions, Nuffield Health, Screenetics, Simplyhealth.