New occupational health assessments have been introduced to support workers in Tyne and Wear after figures show high number of people being off work due to long-term sickness.
In Tyne and Wear, there were 51,200 people off work due to long-term sickness between the dates of April 2014 – March 2015. This works out as 28.3 per cent of the Tyne and Wear population being long-term off sick, which is a lot higher in comparison to the national average 21.6 per cent for Great Britain.
Referrals have now begun for a new government support service, designed to help workers facing long-term sickness absence return to their jobs more quickly, which has just gone live across Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
The free, voluntary 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 due to illness or related issues.
It means that all GPs in Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear will now be able to refer their employed patients, who have been off work for a long period of time, to the service with their consent.
Patients will then benefit from an in-depth consultation, followed by a personalised Return to Work Plan tailored to their needs and support to get back to their job.
Employees can also speak to their GPs to request a referral to the service.
Rosamond Roughton, Director of NHS Commissioning, said: “NHS England welcomes Fit for Work, as an opportunity to support people working in the England and Wales who currently have no access to expert occupational health advice.
“This service will help GPs provide holistic care to their patients while reducing the pressure of ill health associated with managing people who become long term unemployed.”
The voluntary service is intended to help the tens of thousands of people across Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear each year who are on long term sickness from work.
It will also help employers to reduce the impact of long-term sickness absence on their businesses.
Commenting on the Fit for Work roll-out, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: “Backing working people is central to the continued success of this country.
“The longer someone remains out of work due to sickness, the greater the cost to their career, income and future earnings. Fit for Work will ensure that people get the right help when they need it to get back to work so they can continue to support themselves and their families.”
Dr Lucy Goundry, Clinical Lead for the Fit for Work programme at Health Management Limited, which will deliver the new service, said: “GPs have long called for such a service, and we are delighted to be able to provide an independent referral service that will make occupational health support accessible to the wider working population as well as provide a vital line of support for GPs in Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.”
How it works
Within two working days of a referral, the worker concerned will receive an in-depth consultation with an occupational health professional who will explore all of the issues that might be preventing them from returning to work. This will include work-related and wider personal issues as well as health matters.
Based on this assessment, the health professional will create a Return to Work Plan, containing steps and advice for the employee and employer. If the employee is willing for the plan to be shared with their employer, Fit for Work can engage with the employer to help the employee achieve a return to work.
The Return to Work Plan will also direct employees towards services that will help them overcome any barriers keeping them away from work. This plan can replace the need for doctors to issue repeated fit notes, thereby relieving pressure on GPs’ time.
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 per cent of employees currently have access to occupational health services through their place of work. Employers will also be able to refer their employees in the autumn once the gradual roll out for GPs has been completed.
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.
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.
Each year 11 million workers in the UK experience sickness absence.
Less than a million of these people end up being absent for at least a month or more and research shows that, without the proper support, a high proportion will fail to return to their jobs, resulting in a loss of earnings.
The Fit for Work referral service is complemented by a telephone advice line and website, both of which can be used now by anyone requiring work-related health advice, including employees, employers and GPs.
For more information either call 0800 032 6235, or go to www.fitforwork.org