Health and wellbeing providers are gearing up for a potential surge in demand caused by a possible second wave of swine flu this autumn, as schools reopen and cold weather arrives. Absence management firm First- Care says staff affected by the virus are absent for an average of 4.3 days, which it predicts could cost UK businesses a total of £8.6bn.
Under-strain employers and staff are likely to make greater use of health and wellbeing benefits. David Smith, secretary of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), says employee assistance programme (EAP) providers can cope with the extra demand. “Calls could range from someone with mild symptoms to an employee dealing with the loss of someone from the virus,” he says. “Others might need access to childcare.
“EAP providers all have robust contingency plans to cover pandemics and disasters. For example, one leading supplier has its phones linked to the US, so if no one can pick up in the UK, the call is still answered.”
Mandy Rutter, clinical manager at Axa Icas, says swine flu will also have psychological effects. “We have produced information sheets on how to stay calm in managing the situation. We are going directly to employers and must be proactive. But it can only be generic information, so we are encouraging them to come to us with their specific needs.”
Healthcare providers are advising employers to prioritise which staff should receive swine flu medication. Charles Levinson, chief executive of Doctorcall, says: “Look at high-risk groups – people who are going on holiday to high-risk countries or those with families.”
Financial services group Bluefin has also warned employers to check the terms of their death-in-service cover to see whether a limit has been imposed on their insurance cover.
Although there has been confusion over what claims are valid under private medical insurance, Rebecca Small, assistant medical director at Bupa Heath Insurance, says: “Customers are covered for outpatient and inpatient treatment by a consultant if referred by their GP.”
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