Government-led return to work scheme launches across England

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Fit for Work, a new service designed to help those suffering from long-term sickness to return to work, has been launched today.

The free and confidential service offers working people access to occupational health professionals who will provide a consultation before developing a Return to Work Plan. An employee can be referred by their GP or employer if they have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills, said:

“It’s good to see the government giving people extra support to get back to work after extended sick leave, and will also mean that firms can avoid losing talented staff to long-term absence.

“Businesses welcome the Fit for Work service and it is great to see it rolling out nationally.

“In the longer term we would like to see GPs using service as a default option for those absent for four weeks or more.”

Several academic studies over recent years have shown that prolonged absence from work damages people’s social and financial well-being, as well as their health.  The research also shows that the longer someone is off sick, the harder it is for them to get back to work.

The Fit for Work organisation predicts that this service will be of the most benefit to employers of small to medium companies. It is estimated that just 31 percent of UK employers currently have access to occupational health services at work.

Naeema Choudry, partner at law firm Eversheds, said:

“Employers need to be aware of the significance of this new approach to sickness absence and how the scheme will work in practice. Those who are willing to embrace the new approach the scheme offers could well see real benefits in communications with staff and in addressing sickness absence.

“However, employers also need to be prepared that, from this month, the first they may know of an employee referral to Fit for Work may be upon one of their managers receiving a return to work plan, identifying steps the organisation might take to facilitate a return to work.

“Some employers will already have had dealings with Fit for Work, the key trigger point being once an employee is absent from work for four weeks and consults a GP. To ensure they benefit from what Fit for Work can offer, employers should plan ahead and ensure managers know what to expect or how to respond to ‘return to work’ recommendations received from Fit for Work.

“Co-operation with Fit for Work is entirely voluntary, but it is also important to understand whether there might be consequences if recommendations are not acted upon. Others will need to consider how, if at all, Fit for Work might it impact upon existing in-house occupational health resource.”

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