Farming and ill health

03.10.13 Farming and ill health

Farming causes a wide range of injuries and ill health, this fact is not disputed. It is therefore the reaction to such an event that determines its underlying severity, influenced by staff cover, job responsibility, a propensity to keep problems to oneself and reluctance to admit to the need to see a doctor.

“It’ll be alright” a very common turn of phrase when discussing such health issues. But health insurance is a must with financial implications and the effect on families and relationships hard-hitting.

Doctors know that farming is an industry where one “mustn’t grumble”, but mental health issues like prostate cancer and other health problems are not something that can be cured by ignoring it and hoping it will go away; lone working or lack of spare time should be no excuse against health.

The discussion held on Thursday 3rd October 2013 was a discussion about farming and ill health. It generated a total of 265 tweets on the topic from 63 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Have you an illness or injury which affects your ability to work, or home life?

  • I’ve got a bad back, from lifting heavy things around the farm when I was younger
  • The biggest problem with this is that most farmers I meet with this illness don’t want to talk about it
  • Not myself, but through work at RABI unfortunately know of plenty who have
  • Suffer from a severe form of Crohns disease
  • I broke my left humerus in a fishing accident 3 weeks before harvest’10 never been so bored & never had same strength since
  • Dad is recovering from a double lung transplant he had bronchiectasis which caused difficulty in everyday life
  • My dad had most of a lung out due to breathing in loads of spores from potatoes…v hard working on farm
  • Are there particular forms of ill-health associated with farming we need to address?
  • I’ve a brother with back problems & a couple of operations & if we see him before lunch time he’s it the bed
  • RABI is concerned about the rise in levels of anxiety and depression among people who come to us
  • Asthma and musculo skeletal disorders. I’ve got both.
  • Mental health in the farming community has yet to be recognised and addressed. Unique factors
  • I had a double prolapsed disk in the lower back. Op in Feb. Women doing a man’s job trying to gain respect.
  • Old war wound, caused a premature end to my 1st career. Now have 2 take it slightly easier. Rural healthcare can be unhelpful
  • Yep, aged 26 prolapsed a disc, carried it a long time, had surgery, 6 years later still in chronic pain without strong pills
  • Partner has asthma caused by mouldy grain dust. Dust masks don’t work if you have a beard

If you or a key worker were struck down ill is there somebody who’s trained/able/knows how to do the job?

  • To put it simply: no! There was me and dad until earlier this year, lost dad…and now there’s me…
  • Dad has his leg broken by a bull, made farmlife and livestock haulage job very hard!!
  • Got painkillers and an inhaler. Doctors like to keep people working
  • I done cartilage damage to my knee had 6 weeks off but luckily someone knew what I was doing
  • Expect a lot of mobile phone calls while they get to grips with your job…

How long will you usually suffer with a problem before seeing a GP? What usually is the reason for delay?

  • Appts available between 8-8.30 only – busy with feeding, etc so difficult to get appointments
  • Delay is normally due to pride…
  • The it’ll be all reeet attitude, the I’ve got too much to do to go to the doctors for now!
  • Gave up on being brave after the 6 inch nail through foot. Go straight away now for anything else
  • Usually wait a day or two, depending on how serious. Time taken to get seen is usually the hassle
  • I went A&e with really bad pain in wrist day after shearing, eventually got told it looked like an injury secretaries get!!!
  • Is distance from GP/lack of spare time a barrier to seeking medical advice for farmers? Maybe mobile health can help?

Is there a culture in farming of ‘don’t grumble and carry on’? If so, what issues does this raise & how can it be tackle?

  • Would it be better to moan and down tools? The bottom line is, who picks up the slack? You do.
  • Farmers independent and resilient, must be, when illness strikes may be first to complain, last to do anything about it?
  • I’m ok as long as I force myself to go steady & not go mad with things. I often pay for busy days next morning
  • If the rest of society could replicate the work ethic in agri/food sector then perhaps economy would be in better place
  • Dad burnt arm did nothing about it got infected did nothing-it got to twice size couldn’t move it 6 hrs IV drip

How have you changed your farm since being ill (or what would you do if you were) Altered succession?

  • My only advice would be start planning ‘what if’ ASAP dad had 5 and half weeks to put things in place for me
  • Obvious answer would be to use contractors to do bits you can’t if perm illness, but not easy with livestock hours
  • Moved to strip tillage using a reliable Tillage equipment to save tractor time

How have things changed with your family/spouse since your/their illness/injury?

  • Main thing is family keeping an eye that I don’t overdo things. Made sure they know the sign of coming problems
  • Sudden change in health status can be a deal breaker. Probably cost me my relationship at the time.
  • Try to share work, change of diet, reduce anxiety, adapt for lifting heavy weights etc.
  • I was dangerously ill 35 years ago, off work months. Help from kind farming friends kept us in business. Always so grateful.
  • I’m lucky, I have some really supportive n understanding friends, even if they do find it hard to understand.

Do you make special arrangements for ill staff? Would you employ someone with a long term illness?

  • I would, employers have looked beyond it in the past & given me a chance based on merit, qualifications & experience.
  • If not on own farm, I don’t think I would be employable. My time keeping has gone way too flexible.
  • Vitally important for employees with long term illness/disab. to be honest, clear and realistic with employers. Give & take
  • Need to drill down into health issues distinctive of farming. Many common issues, where can we make real difference for farmers?

What have been the financial implications of illness? Or what do you think they would be if you/your spouse got ill?

  • Financial implications are huge & impact family. Not just income being less, but time away from work for spouse is also issue
  • A few years ago had cancer 8 months off insurance wouldn’t pay out until back at work luckily savings kept roof over head
  • I would strongly recommend ill health insurance as you never know what’s round the corner
  • BUPA insurance over 10 years at least 20k, just as well pay for any treatment as it happen
  • My insurance policy saved my farming business when I needed a back operation. This is why farm insurance is important. I could pay someone else to do the jobs.
  • Used to be insured against illness & injury. Decided to save for rainy instead of paying expensive premiums.
  • Twitter forums are definitely excellent forms of support if folk have access. Thumbs up to all founders!
  • Both me and the misses have insurance cover for accident or ill health with 4 businesses and three kids to run its a no brainer

Have you ever been advised by a Doctor to quit farming and find something that takes less toll on the body?

  • Only in that I’ve been told further surgery will be delayed if I take it easy. 15 years down the line sounds like an eternity
  • Physio Consultant told me to change job, but said he already knew my response. He’d seen plenty of farmers.
  • Plugging away is the easy option- face the problem and remember the people around you.

If you’ve experienced ill health, do you see things as a glass half full or empty & has that changed?

  • You put the glass in perspective- plenty of other glasses in the world!
  • I’m just glad of what I can still do, not upset at what I can’t do anymore. So many people are so much worse off than me.

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 8 October 2013

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