Employees working abroad need support for everyday illnesses and chronic conditions, not just major health incidents such as Covid. Although the pandemic has taken the headlines recently, it’s important that other illnesses and conditions are not forgotten.
Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “There is a tendency to think of the bigger health issues when it comes to supporting employees abroad. Pandemics and health outbreaks have taken a lot of attention. But overlooking the impact of everyday illnesses is a mistake, as these often result in a great deal of time off and anxiety for the employee and can impact upon the success of overseas projects for the business.”
Making advice easily available
Many everyday illnesses can be dealt with using ‘self-care’, under the right advice. These include conditions like flu, tonsilitis, colds, conjunctivitis, and sunburn. For those working abroad, where there is no NHS to consult, ensuring access to medical advice is imperative.
With so much information available on the internet it can be difficult for someone to know what advice to follow, and dangerous to follow the wrong advice. Putting in place access to medical information services from qualified experts enables employees to obtain professional support. It can be particularly useful for overseas employees to have access to digital services, such as virtual GPs. Others will want or need to see a GP in person, so this should be made available where possible, as should access to dispensing of medication.
Broadly defined as lasting more than a year, and requiring ongoing medical treatment, chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol, and arthritis. Employers and employees need to be aware that travel insurance will not cover such pre-existing and ongoing conditions, so fuller health and wellbeing support is required. Indeed, travel insurance is only ever meant for relatively short trips abroad and is not sufficient for employees working overseas.
Employees who have been taking medication for chronic conditions need to check if they are available in their host country and may need assistance in finding alternatives abroad. Chronic conditions may not be life-threatening, but they can be severely life-inhibiting. It is important, therefore that support is in place for them to be properly managed.
Issues that develop
There may also be health issues that develop whilst an employee is abroad, possibly even related to their work placement. These include musculoskeletal conditions from bad working posture, and mental health conditions that may be part of the impact of being away from family and friends. Support from the employer needs to be wide-ranging and well signposted, so that employees can access it quickly and easily as and when required.
It’s also important to understand whether employees have a serious or more commonplace condition that needs support. There are various warning signs that something more significant may be wrong, like weight loss; blood when coughing, vomiting, or going to the toilet; or feeling tired or thirsty for no obvious reason. These can be signs of a more serious condition, and it is vital that employees abroad have access to medical professionals who will be able to advise whether further diagnoses or treatment is required.
Sarah Dennis says: “As well as memorable and wonderful factors in working abroad, it can also include many stressful ones. Employers can support their overseas staff by ensuring that their health is one thing that they don’t have to worry about. Everyday health and wellbeing concerns can quickly escalate if they’re not properly supported, so it’s vital that employers offer adequate care.”