Europe's population is ageing fast, with the proportion of people aged 65 and over expected to rise from 16 to 26 per cent – an increase of more than 50 per cent – over the next 40 years, according to a report published by the international social security association. With an ageing population, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are on the rise and are set to affect up to 50 per cent of working-age populations by 2030. This projected increase is due in part to the fact that people are working longer. With an ageing population comes unique issues that we must address if we are to see a return to robust productivity levels and an improvement in the quality of life of our citizens.
"With an ageing population, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are on the rise and are set to affect up to 50 per cent of working-age populations by 2030"
In the Netherlands, MSDs affect over two million people. In order to address this issue, Fit for Work Europe, the multi-stakeholder coalition working toward a better alignment between the work and health agendas in the EU and an improvement in care delivery for people with MSDs, has supported the development in the Netherlands of a pilot tool, the Fit for Work checklist.
Based on the concept of workability, the checklist is intended to help make muscle and joint pain a regular conversation topic between stakeholders. In developing the checklist, we have considered the aspects that affect employers, employees and healthcare professionals and the way they interact with each other. Individual checklists for each category of stakeholder can be customised, addressing the need for practical guidance in encouraging workforce participation of those suffering from MSDs.
Our checklist is an important tool to increase awareness about workability, MSDs, and the importance productive employment plays in a person's physical, social, and psychological wellbeing. Its use by stakeholders can have a significant impact on the lives of those living with MSDs and it can be used as a model throughout Europe and beyond. To that end, the checklist has been adapted for use in Canada, and several countries in Europe are in the process of adapting it to their own labour market and health systems. In the Netherlands, pilot programmes will assess healthcare providers' efforts and approaches to making workability a key component of an individual's treatment and recovery process.
In order to ensure the success of the checklist and other initiatives aimed at addressing the needs of a population increasingly affected by MSDs, the active engagement of policymakers across Europe is essential. Later this month on 18 June, the European commission hosts the Frailty in Old Age conference in Brussels, bringing together stakeholders to flesh out recommendations for building a European policy on frailty. The conference will be an opportunity to address key issues facing countries with ageing populations. We are calling on the conference's attendees and participants to look at initiatives like the Dutch workability checklist that offer real solutions to an increasingly urgent problem.
"Forward-thinking leadership is imperative if we are to promote a cultural step-change that will prioritise the importance of work as a clinical outcome for ailments affecting an ageing workforce"
Forward-thinking leadership is imperative if we are to promote a cultural step-change that will prioritise the importance of work as a clinical outcome for ailments affecting an ageing workforce, including MSDs. Ensuring people remain in work and continue to live happy, productive lives as long as possible is not only vital to the quality of life of our citizens, it is crucial to a strong, competitive Europe.