Almost half of the UK's workforce will have at least one chronic health condition by 2030, politicians are being warned this morning, in a call to respond to the growing burden of illness facing the nation.

A key implication of this, says Fit For Work UK, a coalition of healthcare professionals, policymakers, employers and patient groups, is that productivity will be affected, weakening the competitiveness of the UK economy as a result.

It argues that the costs of ill-health in the UK workforce will far exceed the current £100 billion estimate as long-term sickness absence, so-called presenteeism (working when ill) and work disability climb over the next twenty years. 

Also, an ageing workforce and later retirement are also forecast to increase the proportion of workers leaving employment early as a result of their health, it notes.

Urgent action needed now

"The UK requires urgent action now to prevent this trend developing into a crisis of public health and impaired labour productivity," said the coalition's President Professor Stephen Bevan. "It is only by developing a cross-government strategy and improving the dissemination of the tools needed to empower people with long-term conditions, that this challenge can be met," he stressed.

The Coalition's five point plan to address the issue is calling for: a cross-government strategy and programme for health and work; the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Health & Work; better information for those with long-term conditions to help them stay in work; including return to work in NHS frameworks and care outcomes targets; and incentives to reward healthcare providers who support patients back to employment.