25 November 2014 10:33

Lancaster University is a major partner in a new £1.4m national Centre to reduce the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on employment.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) almost 31 million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems, and they accounted for more prolonged absences than any other ailment. Musculoskeletal disorders have been the primary cause of absenteeism for the past five years, with the UK having one of the highest rates in Europe.

Researchers at the Centre for Musculoskeletal  Health and Work aim to find cost-effective ways of reducing the impact of conditions that affect the muscles, joints and bones on people’s employment and productivity, with benefits for patients, employers and society as a whole. The centre, funded by Arthritis Research UK and the Medical Research Council, will focus its research on the three main musculoskeletal causes of work disability – back, neck and arm pain, osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis. A special theme will be the impact of these conditions on older people who are approaching normal retirement age.

Lancaster University is a major partner in the new Centre, which will bring together the Lancaster Health Hub, The Work Foundation and colleagues in all faculties of the University. In addition to contributing to the Centre’s research and its impact on policy, and enhancing the management of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace, the University will co-ordinate links and activities between three other universities in the north west region (Liverpool, Manchester and Salford) to maximise the output and impact of the Centre across the entire region.

Professor John Goodacre, Faculty of Health and Medicine at Lancaster University, and NW regional lead for the Centre, said “This Centre offers a unique opportunity for Lancaster University to bring together its renowned skills and expertise across a wide range of subjects and disciplines to make a significant contribution to an issue which is hugely important not only to patients with these conditions, but also to their families and employers”. 

The research team already has an established research track record on the relationship between health and work, and now aims to place a greater emphasis on development of practical interventions – organisational, behavioural and physical   ­– to reduce the impact of musculoskeletal conditions, whether or not they are caused by work.

They will work closely with clinicians, employers, employees and patients to emphasise the importance of people with musculoskeletal conditions remaining at work where possible. For this to happen, employers need to be flexible in enabling their staff to change or modify their patterns of work without compromising the overall productivity of their business.

The Centre will be led by the University of Southampton, with other partners including  the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, Guy’s and St Thomas’s Trust and Imperial College London.