doctorsLet’s face it, it can feel a little bit awkward talking to people about their health problems.

Bodily functions and failings aren’t exactly the greatest topic of conversation. Many illnesses or injuries can also be difficult to understand. And let’s not forget mental ill-health. According to the Mental Health Foundation one in 4 people experience some form of mental health in the course of a year. However, as many as 40% of adults admit they would find it difficult discussing such issues with a friend who was suffering.

No wonder then that employers sometimes lack confidence or feel they are being intrusive when it comes to helping people back to work. However, it’s really important that we don’t allow, sensitivity, embarrassment, ignorance, self-consciousness, awkwardness or whatever to get in the way.

Often the biggest barrier is the psychological one of returning to work after a period of absence.

Which is why I was really pleased to hear an announcement from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently. Apparently, they are planning to introduce a new independent assessment and advisory service for businesses, which will aim at get people back to work and away from long-term sickness benefits.

According to the DWP the scheme will save employers up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.

Currently, only 10% of employees of smaller firms have access to an occupational health service and around 50% of staff in larger firms. The new service will enable employers of all sizes to access “expert advice” to help them manage sickness absence.

The DWP said the initiative will ensure employers receive “bespoke, independent advice for cases of sickness absence lasting more than four weeks.”

The independent occupational health assessment and advice service is expected to be up and running in 2014.

About Teresa Budworth