Fit for Work information
A new support service, designed to help working people who face long-term sickness absence return to work more quickly, is now available across the whole of England.
The free and confidential service, known as Fit for Work, will provide the services of occupational health professionals to employed people if they have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more.
According to government statistics, around 815,000 working people in England each year have sickness absence of four weeks or more. Research indicates that, without support, a significant proportion will struggle to return to their jobs.
From today, all GPs in England will be able to offer their working patients a referral to the new service, which includes an in-depth assessment, followed by a personalised Return to Work Plan and managed support to get back to their jobs. Employers will also be able to refer their employeesto the service from the autumn.
The service, which is entirely voluntary, is intended to help the hundreds of thousands of people in England each year who are, or are likely to be, absent from work for more than four weeks due to illness or related issues. It will also help employers reduce the impact of long-term sickness absence on their businesses.
The service is expected to be of particular value in small and medium-sized firms where there is no, or limited, employer occupational health support available. It is estimated that only 31% of employees currently have access to occupational health services through their place of work.
During a series of events over recent months, GPs and practice managers in England and Wales have been briefed about the new service to which they can refer eligible patients, provided the individuals concerned give their consent.
HOW IT WORKS
Within two working days of a referral, the employee concerned will receive an in-depth consultation with an occupational health professional who will explore all of the issues that might be preventing that person returning to work. This will include work-related and wider personal issues as well as health matters.
The Return to Work Plan will direct employees towards services that will help them overcome any obstacles keeping them away from work. If the employee gives consent, Fit for Work professionals can also work directly with employers to help the patient achieve a return to work. The Return to Work Plan can replace the need for doctors to issue fit notes, thereby relieving pressure on GPs’ time. Support from the new service lasts for up to three months.
With individuals collectively estimated to miss out on £4billion a year in lost earnings, the service is intended to offer a pragmatic approach for those struggling to return to work. Fit for Work takes a holistic or ‘biopsychosocial’ approach, which takes into account the full range of work, health, and non-health/non-work issues that are preventing a return to work.