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GPs to refer long-term sick to occupational health service as national scheme goes live

The Government is urging GPs to start referring patients heading for long-term sickness absence from work to a new national occupational health service.

The new ‘Fit for Work’ service, set up by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), is officially rolled out across the whole of England and Wales from this week, after being piloted in several areas.

Under the scheme, GPs can refer patients who have been signed off work for four weeks or longer, or are likely to be, to see an occupational health specialist.

Patients who agree to referral are then managed by the Fit for Work service to help them back to work or into retraining, so GPs no longer have to sign the patients’ fit note unless the patient is unable to return to work.

The DWP hopes the service will avoid people going on to long-term sickness absence and estimates the the service will cut sick pay costs to business by between £80m and £165m a year. One previous back-to-work GP referral scheme, which was used to inform the national service specification, enabled two-thirds of those referred to return to work or training.

However, the RCGP warned that the national service could be too reliant on telephone rather than face-to-face contacts with patients, and called for an evaluation of the programme.

Dr John Chisholm, health and work lead for the college, said: ‘It is positive that all GPs in England and Wales now have access to the service that is available, but GPs had hoped that Fit for Work would have been more hands-on, rather than relying on telephone contact for the vast majority of patients.’

He added: ‘We look forward to an evaluation of the system to see how it has benefited patients, and hope this will both allay our concerns and provide lessons to improve the service.’

The GPC has also voiced concerns that offering mainly telephone consultations will not be enough for most patients, and warned that GPs will not use the service if they felt it did not offer enough support.

NB 11.00 Fri 24 July - This story has been modified to correct the description of the service from occupational ‘therapy’ to ‘health’

Readers' comments (11)

  • NB:Patients who agree to referral.

    That's the catch isn't it because why should they agree to it when they have no intention of working.The only solution is to either drastically reduce the welfare state or to take sick note prescribing off our hands

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  • Oh dear Pulse - Occupational Therapy? NO ITS OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH! At least get the headline correct!

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  • Corrected now, thanks for pointing out the error - Ed

  • Initially read the headline as National Service for GPs!

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  • We just had presentation by DWP minion regarding this and was for patients who agree to referal and have a job/employment currently was what we were told. So its long term sick with a very very big caveat.

    Dont thik I've be taxing this system too heavily, though understand its available for employers to refer into if they wish to wade through a long internet based form that when demonstrated took over 10 minutes to complete.

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  • There are already services for patients who want to return to work. The problem is the people who have no intention of working and threaten complaints and slagging comments on NHS Choices unless they are supplied with sick notes.

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  • Great but what if they just want car house and all bills and credit cards paid for stress or back

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  • Edoardo Cervoni

    It would be interesting to make a distinction between cases when the GP advises refraining from work, and cases when the patient is requesting a sick note as he or she feels unable to work whatever this may be the cause. From this subgroup, the DWP should -without the need for a referral- assess promptly those who have been sick for a significant amount of time (4 weeks or more). I am sure many GP would agree on probably all the cases where refraining from work would be beneficial to the mental and physical health of the patient.

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  • [Comment removed]

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  • Patient consent to be assessed is a step towards a warpath and the GP-patient relationship will come under greater stress. I think I would have rather had that discreet blank we filled in -med 7?- when we felt that patient needed assessment without going into unnecessary discussion with patient.
    Patients have own agenda- some come and say they have stress due to financial problems and can't work due to this!!!

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  • Please avoid the trap of referring into this service without first asking the patient if their employer has an Occ Health Dept.

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