The Fit for Work scheme has this week been made available to employers in England and Wales, completing a national roll-out which began in April. This provides occupational health support and advice for GPs, employers, and employees and aims to reduce long term sickness absence.
The scheme was introduced in response to an independent review of sickness absence (undertaken in 2011 by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE) and is aimed at plugging the gap in occupational health advice and support provision. This gap was identified as one of the obstacles to people returning to work.
Under the scheme, employers can access web and telephone advice about any work-related health matters affecting employees and their workplace. Also, if an employee is referred to Fit for Work for an assessment, the employer may receive a Return to Work Plan which will contain advice and recommendations which can be taken to get the employee back to work. Employees are eligible to be referred if they have been off work for four weeks due to sickness, and have a realistic outlook of returning to work.
The battle to control the cost of sickness absence is a continuing one and the scheme is intended to benefit employers by reducing sick pay costs (by enabling employees to return to work earlier). It will also provide occupational health advice and services to small to medium sized enterprises that may have only had limited access to date. Whether or not the scheme will achieve its intended aims will remain to be seen.
Whilst it is not mandatory to refer employees to Fit for Work, the Government is recommending that employers update their sickness absence policies to reflect the availability of Fit for Work.
For a brief outline of the Fit for Work scheme, listen to our short podcast: The Fit for Work scheme in under 4 minutes.