Background Work is proven to be good for your health and it is important to people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs), both financially and for their quality of life and wellbeing. There is also an enormous social cost. In Ireland, RMDs account for 7 million days in absenteeism - half of the total. That amounts to €750 million each year. €295 million is paid out in illness benefit. Arthritis Ireland is working to improve the supports available to people with RMDs so that they can continue in their jobs or get back to work.
Objectives The objectives of the project were to 1) develop succinct informative guides to working with RMDs for both employees and employers 2) develop an online educational programme to provide information, guidance and support to employees, employers and healthcare professionals on working with RMDs.
Methods In 2011, Arthritis established Fit for Work Ireland – a coalition of stakeholders including employer and employee representatives and health professionals with the key goal of improving employees' ability to work with RMDs and reducing the impact of RMDs on workplace absenteeism.
Arthritis Ireland has developed a number of educational tools to support people with RMDs in the workplace as part of our Fit for Work Programme. 2014 saw the development of two comprehensive guides for employees and employers to help address these challenges. 1) “Working with arthritis, back pain & related conditions: A guide for employees” provides up to date and accurate information and advice to make sure an individual can find the help they need to stay in their job. If a person is worried or concerned following a recent diagnosis of an MSD, they can find more information about what kind of support they are entitled to. This guide also discusses the options of re-training or moving to different types of jobs within an organisation. 2) “Arthritis, back pain & related conditions: A guide for employers” provides a practical source of information and guidance for employers to help them to understand what MSDs are; understand how MSDs may affect employees and support employees working with MSDs.
In 2015 Arthritis Ireland developed an online education programme “Fit for Work Online” which focuses on the tripartite relationship between the employee, employer and healthcare professional.
Results The two published guides for employees and employers have been distributed widely to rheumatology clinics, physiotherapy clinics and GP surgeries. The guides are also available for order or for download on the Arthritis Ireland website. The information has been positively received but employees, employers and healthcare professionals alike.
“Fit for Work Online” will launch formally in February 2016.
Conclusions Despite the staggering incidence and the fact that RMDs are the leading cause of work absence in Ireland, these conditions often remain overlooked by policy makers and employers. This project has aimed to improve employee's ability to work with RMDs through the provision of clear and quality information and support.
Disclosure of Interest None declared
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