What is early intervention?

The features of early intervention include:


Early diagnosis

Generally, primary care practitioners are the first point of contact for people presenting with a musculoskeletal (MSK) condition. Most diagnoses are straightforward (e.g. low back pain) but others – including thhe less common or ambiguous symptoms of inflammatory arthritis – can be more complicated, and, therefore, require referral.


Appropriate referral of workers with recent-onset work disability

Early referral to an MSK expert can make a big difference to someone with recent-onset work disability. Through efficient management of their condition, they will be able to return to work sooner, which, in turn, decreases the possibility of them becoming long-term disabled.



In most cases, the person who knows best how to manage an MSK condition is the person living with it. Self-management is now much more accepted in clinical practice. Early interventions which include elements of patient education, coaching and support can enable the individual to actively manage their condition. This can increase their self-confidence and speed-up a return to work.


Workplace adjustments

Employers, occupational health and HR professionals can make a difference to workplace health risks by addressing hazardous working conditions, referring an absent employee early on for support and rehabilitation, and making adjustments to the working environment, or working hours, to help people recovering from an episode of absence to phase their return to work.

What is the Early Intervention Toolkit?

The Early Intervention Toolkit is a unique resource which, using the example of musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, illustrates why there is an increasingly urgent need for early intervention services across the EU and, in turn, demonstrates how such services could be implemented, with best practice examples, in a range of countries and health systems.

Who should use the Early Intervention Toolkit?

The Toolkit is a valuable resource for a range of stakeholders, including, but not limited to:

  • Individuals and their families
  • Health systems
  • Health care providers
  • Policymakers
    • Health sector
    • Employment and social care sectors
    • Finance sector
  • Social security and/or social insurance
  • Employers
  • Occupational health physicians

Why use the Early Intervention Toolkit?

  • Healthcare systems across Europe face two significant and interrelated pressures: tightening financial resources and ever increasing demands for access to health and social care caused by ageing populations; the proportion of people aged 65+ is expected to increase from 18.4% in 2014 to 28.4% by 2080
  • Chronic conditions – MSKs in particular – are a growing problem: lost productivity and sickness absence due to MSKs alone costs the EU approximately €300bn each year (2% of GDP) – these costs will increase as the population ages
  • A pioneering clinic in Madrid has shown that, through early intervention, temporary and permanent work disability can be reduced significantly, resulting in an additional 81,000 Spanish workers per day with €11 generated for every €1 of expenditure
  • If the results from the Madrid clinic were replicated across the EU, it is estimated that an additional 660,000 EU workers would be available for work each day
  • Spending on prevention only accounts for 3% of healthcare expenditure in Europe, thus there is enormous potential – and good reason – for further spending to be allocated to early intervention programmes
  • This Toolkit provides essential information on how to make early intervention a reality through cross-sectoral collaboration and a robust, bottom-up, implementation strategy

How to use the Toolkit


The “Introduction” highlights the need for early intervention, its potential benefits for a range of stakeholders, and the practicalities involved in making it happen


Implementing early intervention” outlines what an early intervention service looks like, how to set one up, the importance of cross-ministry working, how to overcome barriers, and how to optimise the implementation


Sharing evidence and best practice” provides the evidence base for early intervention, comprising a comprehensive web-based database in addition to three real-life case studies that illustrate early intervention in practice


Building the business case” offers insight into the potential cost savings that can be made through early intervention


Partnering for success” identifies who the relevant stakeholders are, how they can benefit from the early intervention,  and what they need to do to make early intervention a reality

Fit for Work Global Alliance is led by The Work Foundation and supported by AbbVie.

Toolkit partners:

Toolkit sponsor:

Fit for Work Global Alliance is a multi-stakeholder initiative, driving policy and practice change across the work and health agendas in Europe and worldwide (over 35 countries). The vision is to raise awareness of the facts of MSKs and make the case for more investment in sustainable healthcare by promoting and supporting the implementation of early intervention practices. Fit for Work is led by The Work Foundation – Lancaster University, which is also providing the Secretariat. AbbVie is founding sponsor since 2008. All the research is produced independently by The Work Foundation, with full editorial control resting with the think-thank alone.

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?