After a decade of campaigning, putting health and work on the public policy agenda, the Fit for Work UK Coalition is drawing to a close. The Work Foundation has had the privilege of serving as chair for its duration, and we would like to thank AbbVie for their sustained support over this period, Incisive Health for providing the secretariat and of course the members themselves.

Since being established in 2007, the Coalition’s membership has grown from 11 to 23 members. This network of expert stakeholders, comprising leading arthritis patient groups and charities, healthcare professional groups, think tanks, commissioners and employers, has successfully campaigned for greater recognition of the impact that musculoskeletal conditions have on people’s health and work outcomes. Throughout, a key focus has been promoting the well-evidenced relationship between good work and good health, alongside calls for work to be recognised as a health outcome.

Amongst its many achievements, the Coalition has been successful in shaping public policy, showcasing innovation through research publications, providing much-needed resources for patients and directly engaging with a range of key decision-makers. It has gained public recognition for its efforts, being shortlisted as a finalist for the Excellence in Healthcare Collaboration and Partnerships category for the 2016 Communiqué Awards.

Shaping public policy

The Coalition’s early work, which stressed the need to view work as a clinical outcome as well as highlighting the benefits associated with early intervention for people experiencing chronic, particularly musculoskeletal, conditions, was influential on Dame Carol Black’s seminal 2008 report, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow. This report would go on to shape government policy on work health.

Five years later, the Coalition’s call for national leadership on musculoskeletal conditions was answered: Peter Kay was appointed National Clinical Director for Musculoskeletal Services – giving musculoskeletal health the recognition it needed as an important public health issue.

In 2015, following the Coalition’s sustained calls for joined-up working across UK Government departments, the Joint Work and Health Unit was set up. Soon after, a new ministerial role was established: the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, signalling the Government’s recognition of the need to retain and reintegrate those with chronic conditions into the workforce. Building on this, in 2016 the Government consulted on ways to reduce the ‘disability employment gap’, with the Coalition playing a key role in shaping the subsequent Improving Lives national strategy, which heavily focused on musculoskeletal health.

Conducting innovative research

The Coalition’s policy work has been supported by a number of reports and publications comprising innovative research. Early outputs highlighted the significant impact musculoskeletal conditions have on people’s work and home life, as well as the life and employment opportunities of young people. Recognising the important role that employers can play in supporting people with chronic conditions, a 2014 report explored how employers can help facilitate self-management. This was followed by a paper on the challenges presented by working with multiple conditions. More recently, innovative research explored the potential for social prescribing – which enables healthcare professionals to refer people to a range of non-clinical services – to act as route towards work, potentially reducing the disability employment gap.

Alongside these research reports a number of useful tools have been developed, designed to provide practical support for patients with the intention of improving the quality of care they receive and their capacity to work. This includes the My Plan for My Life with… booklet, launched at a Parliamentary Summit on 20 October 2015. It was followed by the Shared decision-making tool, developed by the Coalition working in collaboration with Cardiff University, which helped facilitate patients’ discussions about work with health professionals.

Engaging with key decision-makers

The Coalition has engaged with many key decision-makers over the years, including MPs, government ministers, policymakers and Lords. It also played an important role in shaping the Government’s reviews of sickness absence and the Work Capability Assessment, as well the design of the national occupational health service Fit for Work.

Looking back on its achievements, it is clear the Coalition has made a real and lasting impact on the health and work policy landscape, achieving much-needed and greater recognition of the impact that musculoskeletal conditions have on millions of people’s health and work outcomes. Its impact is perhaps best evidenced by the Government’s Improving Lives strategy, which explicitly recognises the need to improve employment outcomes for people with musculoskeletal conditions. This has been backed by significant investment in new and innovative approaches to tackle the issue in the form of a multi-million pound Challenge Fund.

We would like to thank the following organisations and individuals for their valuable contribution as Coalition members through the years: Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance; Arthritis Research UK; BackCare; British Society for Rheumatology; Chartered Society of Physiotherapy; Chronic Pain Policy Coalition; Healthy Working Futures; National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society; New NHS Alliance; Pathways CIC; Royal College of General Practitioners; Society of Occupational Medicine; Spinal Injuries Association; Society of Occupational Medicine; Neil Betteridge; Professor Dame Carol Black; Dr Steve Boorman; Dr Suzan Verstappen; Dr Karen Walker-Bone; Professor Tony Woolf.

About the author

Dr James Chandler

Policy Adviser at the Work Foundation