Margaret Greenwood MP is calling on the government to bring forward a cross-departmental musculoskeletal (MSK) strategy to support those with such conditions.
Her intervention came as she led a debate in parliament on the subject of musculoskeletal conditions and employment.
Research from the charity Versus Arthritis suggests that over 20 million people in the UK – around a third of the population – live with an MSK condition. It is estimated that one in 10 employees in the UK suffer from one.
They include conditions like osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic fractures, osteoarthritis and a range of conditions that cause pain in the lower back, the neck and parts of the arms and legs.
Margaret Greenwood highlighted that the workplace can be a source of such conditions through injuries sustained from one-off accidents, or through poorly managed working practices that lead to conditions developing over time.
The Health and Safety Executive has noted that MSK conditions can be caused by a number of things, including, but not limited to, lifting heavy loads, working with handheld power tools, long-distance driving or driving over rough ground, working with display screen equipment and repetitive work that sees an individual using the same hand or arm action over a period of time.
The Wirral West MP called for a range of actions from the government on the issue including to:
- come forward with a cross-departmental MSK strategy. That strategy must set out how the government will seek to promote good MSK health, reduce the risk of accidents and practices in the workplace that lead to or exacerbate MSK conditions and ensure that support is there for people who need it through positive workplace practices and, where appropriate, the use of equipment, devices and assistive technologies
- invest far more in the provision of leisure centres and swimming pools, particularly in deprived areas, so that people can manage and improve their MSK health
- increase investment in research into MSK conditions
- raise awareness of the Access to Work scheme, which has been widely referred to as ‘the government’s best kept secret’ and which provides important support for people who are disabled or have a health condition that impacts on their ability to get work or stay in work
- review the needs of the Health and Safety Executive and restore the body’s funding to at least 2010 levels
- support the “Better Bones” campaign, which is led by the Royal Osteoporosis Society and the Sunday Express and which calls for access for all over-50s to fracture liaison services with dedicated bone specialists, £30 million a year of extra investment to make fracture liaison services universal in England, Wales and Scotland, and the appointment of a fractures tsar for each British nation.
Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “Musculoskeletal conditions can be devastating for those who are affected by them.
“They can cause pain, reduce mobility, diminish self-confidence, and they can also lead to extended periods of absence from work. In some cases, people can be forced to give up work altogether. As a result, people can find themselves unemployed and impoverished.
“MSK conditions can also bring substantial costs to the state in the form of social security and NHS spending.
“The scale of the problem is huge and it needs addressing as a matter of urgency.
“That is why I am calling on the government to take clear and focused action in the form of a cross-departmental MSK strategy with clear goals to improve prevention and to support those with MSK conditions.
“I was pleased to have the opportunity to highlight in the debate some of the sorts of things that strategy needs to include.
“The Health and Safety Executive has reported that 6.6 million working days were lost due to MSK disorders in Great Britain in 2022-23 – the second highest cause after stress, depression or anxiety.
“Those who are in work need the right support so that they can remain in work, and those who are looking for work need to know of the support that is available to help them get back into employment.
“The Access to Work programme can provide vital support to people, yet it is not well-known.
“There should be absolutely no stigma around having an MSK condition, nor for asking for help in relation to it.
“For example, people who use computers in work should be made to feel comfortable raising any concerns that they have about the impact of their working conditions and the equipment that they use on their MSK health. Things like a sit-stand desk, a vertical mouse, a split keyboard or voice recognition software can sometimes make all the difference to someone with an MSK condition. Such adjustments can transform people’s lives.
“I to pay tribute to all those who work so hard to promote safe and healthy working environments, including Health and Safety Executive professionals, occupational therapists and of course hard-working trade union health and safety reps who do such invaluable work in identifying workplace issues and campaigning for greater safety for working people.”
You can read the full parliamentary debate, which was led by Margaret Greenwood MP, here
If you think you would benefit from the government’s Access to Work scheme, you can find out more by calling the helpline on 0800 121 7479, or by visiting the scheme’s website: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work