New Welsh research centre to improve understanding of the psychosocial factors that influence illness, disease, recovery

The launch of a major new research centre at Cardiff University, Wales has been welcomed by senior figures from the worlds of health, politics, research and business.

The centre aims to improve our understanding of the psychosocial factors that influence illness, disease, recovery and reintegration into work.

Wales’ First Minister, Rhodri Morgan AM, and UK Minister of State in the Department of Works and Pensions, Malcolm Wicks MP, were among those voicing their support for the £1.6million centre, based in the School of Psychology and sponsored by income protection provider UnumProvident.

Mr Morgan said it was appropriate that the centre would be based in "an absolutely top-notch psychology school."

Mr Wicks told the launch: "It brings together a rigorous approach to research and evidence in a leading academic school in Europe - a refreshing linkage between classical medical studies, medical sciences and wider health-related research, and a partnership between industry and the University.

"The centre will be the first in the UK to develop specific lines of research into the psychosocial factors related to disability, vocational rehabilitation, and the ill-health behaviours which impact on work and employment."

The launch comes amid warnings that a sharp rise in the number of people with mental health problems and unexplained health complaints is leading to a serious problem of incapacity for work in the UK.

On any working day in the UK, six million people are reported absent from work because of sickness. Moreover, the number of people of working age in receipt of incapacity benefit has risen by 10% since incapacity benefit was introduced in April 1995, and now stands at 2.6 million. Whilst unemployment has fallen and the demand for employees has risen, the number of people claiming incapacity benefit remains stubbornly high.

Speaking at the launch of the new UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, Dr Peter Dewis, Customer Care Director at UnumProvident, said: "The Centre’s research will lead to a better understanding of what makes people incapacitated and how to prevent and better support disabling incapacity to help people return to work after illness. This will bring benefits to employers, insurers and to society as a whole; but more importantly, it will benefit the individual who is healthier and happier when actively involved in work."

Dr Dewis added: "It is a modern-day paradox that in spite of an accelerating rate of medical innovation and discovery, more and more people of working age are being certified as incapable of work, often with complaints which cannot be understood in the same way as more identifiable diseases. The new Centre will be looking at the doctor/patient relationship and how this affects an individual’s reaction to their illness. Studies to be conducted at the Centre in Cardiff will focus on why people respond differently to the same illness, rendering some unable to work while others continue."

The new Centre is the first in the UK to develop specific lines of research into psychosocial factors related to disability, vocational rehabilitation and the determinants of ill-health impacting upon work capacity.

Professor Peter Halligan from the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, who forged the partnership with UnumProvident, said: "Within the next five years, the work will hopefully facilitate a significant re-orientation in current medical practise in the UK, whereby ‘enablement’ rather than disability will be the positive focus and goal for those involved in managing disability and those affected by unexplained symptoms."

Professor Mansel Aylward CB, recently appointed Chair in Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff, will head the Centre when he takes up the position as the Centre’s Director later in the year.

Professor Aylward pointed out: "The Government believes that everyone who can work should be given the opportunity to do so. The overwhelming majority of people newly claiming incapacity benefits expect to get back to work: in reality less than a quarter will be back at work after 12 months on benefit. The nature of the health conditions affecting these people are very largely “common health problems.“ Given the right level of support and intervention the majority of these health conditions are manageable and should not preclude a return to work."

Professor Mansel Aylward CB, recently appointed Chair in Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff, will head the Centre when he takes up the position as the Centre’s Director later in the year.

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