In 2008, Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of Britain’s working age population* estimated the economic costs of sickness absence and worklessness associated with working age ill-health to be over £100 billion a year. The review identified a number of key challenges to keeping Britain’s workforce healthy and in work, including the fact that:
- small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees generally have little or no access to occupational health (OH) support to help them deal with employee sickness absence or employee health issues at work;
- the business case for investment in the health and wellbeing of employees is inadequately understood by employers.
In response to the findings of this 2008 review, a number of measures were undertaken including the introduction of the ‘fit note’ (switching the focus from what employees are too ill to do to what they can do) and the introduction of an occupational health advice lines service (the Adviceline services) geared towards offering tailored advice and support to employers/managers in smaller organisations on employee health issues.
The Adviceline services were designed to test and promote the demand for OH services amongst SMEs and the pilot phase of the service ran from the end of 2009 until March 2011. Specifically, the Adviceline services aimed to provide SMEs with early and easy access to high quality advice concerning employee health issues. Three services were set up for the pilot phase covering:
- England (Health for Work Adviceline).
- Scotland (Healthy Working Lives).
- Wales (Health at Work Advice Line Wales).
The evaluation of the performance of the Adviceline services produced for the DWP** reported on in this two-part blog takes into account the results of all three services. Where possible, however, this blog will highlight results specific to the Health for Work Adviceline (England).
Data from the pilot phase was collected using:
- a telephone survey of service users conducted four to eight weeks after using the service;
- in-depth qualitative interviews conducted by phone with service users (recruited through the survey) which took place some months after using the service;
- regular face-to-face and telephone contact with staff providing the service to identify process issues.
Overall, the evaluation of the Adviceline services was extremely positive and the services offered during the pilot phase were assessed as:
- having been successful in targeting SME employers who needed help to manage an employee’s health problem in the workplace;
- being highly valued by users and appearing to be addressing a genuine desire for professional OH support among SMEs (the overwhelming majority (more than 90%) found it useful and stated that they would recommend it to others);
- providing fast access to professional advice.
Part 2 of this blog (to be posted on 11 April) will look at the feedback received from service users in more detail, and how experience gained during the pilot phase has influenced the design of the service going forward. In the meantime, if you’re looking for help with employee health issues, call the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.
*Black, C. (2008) Working for a healthier tomorrow.
**Sinclair, A., Martin, R., Tyers, C. (2012) Occupational Health Advice Lines evaluation: Final report.