Fit for Work to tackle long-term absence through advice and occupational health assessments

Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

It’s been announced that Fit for Work will be launched by the Government later this year to provide health and work advice and an occupational health assessment to employees, employers and GPs in England and Wales to help people return to or stay in work after an illness. A number of names have been suggested for the service during its ongoing development, including:

The renaming to Fit for Work is based on the need for the name to more accurately reflect the nature and impact of the service.

Long-term sickness absence is a considerable drain on the economy and it’s generally accepted that work is essential to health, wellbeing and self-esteem – being off work for extended periods causes a plethora of problems, including mental health issues, social isolation and difficulty returning to work.

A significant number of people meet the criteria of being employed and on a four-week period of absence in England and Wales – according to the Office for National Statistics[1] (ONS), approximately 815,000 people in England are registered as being on long-term sickness absence (four weeks of more) in England [1.54% of the population], compared to 50,000 in Wales [1.71% of population].

According to Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform:

“Being in work is good for people’s wellbeing and can help them to recover. Fit for Work will help employers and their staff to manage sickness absence and aid the return-to-work process and GPs will play a vital role in referring patients they think will benefit from it. This research will build on the learning from the pilot to help us understand how GPs will use this service and how we can support them in the future.

“Fit for Work is a result of the independent review of sickness absence and the government response which accepted the recommendation to introduce an independent assessment service.”

There will be a phased roll-out of the referral service taking place over a period of months, but visitors to the site can access expert and impartial advice delivered by occupational health professionals from December, in the form of ‘live chat‘, ‘ask a question‘ and a library of guidance in the searchable ‘advice hub‘.

[1] Office for National Statistics Annual Survey (February 2014).

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