Health and Work Service – helping those with four weeks’ sickness absence to return to work

Photo by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Photo by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

The new Health and Work Service (the Service) has been receiving a substantial amount of news coverage in the past week or so as individuals, employers and organisations take stock of how the new service might affect them. Views that are currently being expressed about the service (including 829 comments already written in response to a piece published on the BBC News website a few days ago) range from clear support for the concept, to criticism of how it might work and what it is aiming to achieve.

The new Service will provide advice via the internet and telephone, and an occupational health assessment and case management for those who have been on, or are expected to reach, four weeks’ sickness absence. The occupational health assessment will consider the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and provide advice to the employee, employer and GP on how to overcome these issues. The information will include, where relevant, a timetable for a return to work, fitness for work advice and signposting to work-focused interventions. All employees will be case managed through this part of the service to ensure they are supported and their level of need is correctly identified.

Interestingly, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expressed the view that the new Service should be mandatory and include sanctions for employers who do not cooperate with it. The OECD’s Mental Health and Work in the UK report recommended “tighter obligations and sanctions for non-compliance for employers should be considered if they fail to co-operate with and implement measures recommended by the Health and Work Service”. In fact, according to an article in Workplace Savings and Benefits, Lord Freud (Minister for Welfare Reform) acknowledged at the launch of the OECD’s Mental Health and Work in the UK report that it has not been ruled out for employer participation in the new Service to become mandatory if its initial voluntary structure is not a success.

We’d love to hear your views on the new Service. And, in the meantime, if you need information about work health issues, don’t forget to use the resources on the Health for Work Adviceline website.

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