- Fresh insight from Health Shield Friendly Society reveals UK workers are still struggling with ongoing cost of living pressures, while the impact of NHS appointment shortages are now adding to their worries
- Three quarters struggle to get a doctor’s appointment and half say they are suffering as a result
New research from Health Shield Friendly Society has found that many UK workers are self-treating or suffering medical issues due to lack of healthcare access.
Over half (55%) of UK workers who need healthcare have resorted to self-treating medical symptoms due to being unable to access the NHS. Gen Z (60%) and Millennial (58%) employees say they have resorted to this the most. Almost half (48%) of workers needing healthcare believe they have suffered due to lack of access, with younger employees again being hit the hardest – 55% of Gen Z workers said this was the case, the highest of any age group. These figures underline the enormous pressure the health service is under. The findings come ahead of World Sick Day on Sunday February 11th 2024.
The survey of full and part time workers across the UK* further found that more than seven in 10 (72%) say they have found it difficult to get a doctor’s appointment when they needed one. All age groups reported similar issues with Gen X (73%), Gen Z (72%), Millennials (72%) and Baby Boomers (70%) stating this was the case.
GP appointment waiting times have been hugely impacted by the effects of Covid-19, industrial action and rising levels of chronic illnesses. There are currently 852 fewer full-time qualified GPs compared to 2019. As a result, GP waiting times can vary dramatically across the UK. Whilst many are lucky to secure an appointment within 48 hours of calling their local surgery, one in 20 patients must wait at least four weeks to see a GP2. The survey from Health Shield found that overall 64% of workers are worried about the current pressures the NHS is facing. Baby Boomers (aged 60-78) are worried about this the most (83%), followed by Millennials (67%).
Cost of living impact on healthcare
Meanwhile the ongoing cost of living crisis is a direct reason for many workers putting off or avoiding paying for routine healthcare appointments. More than eight in 10 (81%) say they have reduced their spend on routine appointments such as opticians, physiotherapy, and dental appointments. More than four in ten (41%) say they have also cancelled appointments to save money, and they are twice as likely to have suffered as a result (68% vs 34%).
Matt Liggins, Head of Wellbeing at Health Shield Friendly Society, commented: “It’s really worrying that so many UK workers feel the need to put off attending routine medical appointments, that could be important, because they simply can’t afford to pay for them. Alongside this, the challenges many are facing trying to get a GP appointment are equally concerning. GP services are obviously overstretched and under pressure but it’s worrying if workers are resorting to self-medicating when they cannot access the support that they need. The combination of these two issues can leave employees feeling unwell, risking long term health complications, and causing worry and stress.
“We encourage employers to be as active as they can in 2024 in helping their employees to stay healthy. Not only will it mean employees receive the treatment they need it will also help to alleviate the stress and worry associated with not being able to access healthcare, which could make any issues or symptoms much worse. A supportive approach to employee wellbeing can have huge benefits for employers too, helping with engagement and productivity, whilst reducing absence and turnover. Health Cash Plans are an affordable, flexible solution that can provide the help employees need, often including cashback for routine appointments and accessible services such as Virtual GPs. This can help create a solid foundation for an effective health and wellbeing strategy.”
*Snapshot survey, carried out by Health Shield with Survey Monkey in December 2023 amongst 564 people in full- or part-time work; and with a cross-section of regions, gender and age.