Government funded Occupational Health Service for SMEs

In early 2013, the government unveiled details of an occupational health scheme aimed to save Employers money and help tackle long-term sickness absence in the workplace.  Figures from 2011 estimated that sickness costs UK Employers £9 billion a year.

This summer the Government announced the new scheme – the Health and Work Service – would go live in April 2015 (with roll-out to certain parts of the country from late 2014). Later on in 2014 the Service was renamed the Fit for Work service.

The scheme will offer an independent assessment and advisory service to help small companies who do not have access to an occupational health service and have no more detailed occupational health assessment of their employees sickness beyond the opinion of the employee’s GP.

The government have been running ‘Fit to Work’ pilot centres since March 2011, which were scheduled to finish on 31st March 2013. However, the government have continued to fund them until the new service is launched.

The new advisory service will offer expert advice to help employers manage sickness absence. The service will be free and offer independent, objective assessment by occupational health professionals, on when and in what circumstances employees can return to work after a period of sickness absence.

The service will provide an occupational health assessment for employees when they reach four weeks of sickness absence (or are expected to reach), and will provide advice for employers, employees and GPs throughout the sickness absence process. At the core of the service is the requirement that GPs will refer those patients who have been on sick leave for four weeks to the new service, unless there are very clear and well- defined reasons for not doing so.

If an employee has not been referred to the service at the four-week point and the employer does not feel the information provided by the GP on the fit note is sufficiently clear or helpful, they may refer the employee to the service themselves.

Employees will be assessed and after the assessment, a report will be shared with the employee, employer and GP outlining how best to enable a return to work. The GP and employee will receive the same information while the employer version may be slightly amended to reflect the sensitive nature of medical information.

In July 2014 the Government announced that a Company called Health Management Limited had won the tender to deliver the new service for England and Wales (in Scotland it will be arranged  by the Scottish Government).  A website and telephone service will offer general health and work advice.

We’ll provide more information as it becomes available!

Photo by William Brawley

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