Sickness absence is a major problem for the UK economy – 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013[i]. It incurs significant costs for employers (e.g. the cost of temporary cover, lost productivity, etc.) and individuals (e.g. loss of earnings). Furthermore, getting back to work after an extended, involuntary period of absence can be extremely hard, which is why keeping periods of absence as short as possible is in the interests of all.
The main causes of sickness absence in the UK are musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. back and neck pains), minor illnesses, and stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues feature in the top three causes of long-term absences (four weeks or more) too – over 30% of long-term absences are due to musculoskeletal disorders, and over 20% are down to mental ill health.
Given the scale of the problem of long-term sickness, the Government will be launching Fit for Work (formerly referred to as the ‘Health and Work Service’) in England and Wales next month. (The Scottish service will be known as Fit for Work Scotland and will be run by the Scottish Government).
The new service will consist of two key elements:
- Health and work advice through telephone and on-line services available to all employers, employees and GPs.
- An occupational health assessment for employees on a period of sickness absence lasting four weeks or more.
The overall aims of the service are to facilitate employees’ return to work, help employers to better manage sickness absence in their organisations, and allow GPs to access work-related health support for their patients easily.
By facilitating access to independent and objective advice on issues preventing a sustained return to work, the objective is to reduce the time an employee is off work through sickness. For more information on the new service, which will be launched before the end of the year, see the Gov.UK website.
[i] Source: Office for National Statistics, ‘Sickness Absence in the Labour Market, February 2014’.]