A TWO-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of Huddersfield and one of the world’s leading reinsurance companies could revolutionise the way the UK insurance industry manages early stage sickness absence and has been labelled by UK Government as being ‘a market innovation’.
Dr Serena Bartys, from the University’s Centre for Applied Research in Health, is the Lead Academic Supervisor of the 24-month project and will supervise a KTP Associate working with reinsurance company Swiss Re. The project could ultimately save the UK economy millions of pounds by reducing work loss due to ill-health.
The Swiss Re Group is one of the world’s leading providers of reinsurance, insurance and other forms of insurance-based risk transfer, working to make the world more resilient. The aim of the Swiss Re Group is to enable society to thrive and progress, creating new opportunities and solutions for its clients.
The KTP Associate will use world-leading research conducted at the University, as well as Swiss Re’s industry knowledge on income protection insurance, to develop and implement an insurance-led, evidence-based return-to-work plan, that will also include input from employers.
“This is a strong application with significant commercial, societal and well-being impacts. The project aims to embed new thinking in return-to-work policy. This would be a market innovation.”
Work-loss due to ill-health
Overseeing the KTP at Swiss Re is Claims Medical Manager Stephanie McCahon who emphasised the importance of the project.
“Work-loss due to ill-health continues to be a global concern, costing the UK economy alone around £100bn per year,” said Stephanie.
She described how over the last decade Swiss Re had come to realise that aside from providing individuals with a salary replacement and good healthcare, people taking sickness absence need extra support in the early stages. She firmly believes research already carried out by Dr Bartys with her University colleague Professor Kim Burton, which has highlighted the need for this early support, will prove essential as the project comes to fruition.
“In part, the problem is due to gaps in knowledge and understanding but also because of the way the insurance industry currently works and how policies are structured,” she added.
Dr Bartys pointed out that insurance companies, especially reinsurers such as Swiss Re, don’t usually come into contact with individuals who have taken sickness absence until they make a claim, which is often after several months. This is due to sickness absence pay periods offered by employers, periods of Statutory Sick Pay and the deferral periods which are part of the terms and conditions of income protection insurance policies.
“Financial support is obviously necessary, but the evidence shows the longer someone is away from work, the less likely it is that they will return. There is also good evidence that remaining in work, or returning to work as soon as possible, can be health-supportive,” said Dr Bartys, who is also a Principal Research Fellow in Work and Health.
Regular updates on the progress of the project will be published via a virtual knowledge exchange portal entitled Good Work, Good Health. The portal has a range of useful evidence-based material on how to prevent work loss due to ill-health and manage common health problems in the workplace, including access to Health↔Work Toolbox.
This KTP is part-funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK. The KTP programme is part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy and aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.