GPs will be able to refer patients who have been off work for four weeks or longer to a new flagship occupational health service that is due to be tendered ‘imminently’.
Pulse has learnt that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is preparing to put the contract for the new Health and Work Service out to tender shortly.
The occupational health service is aimed at getting people on long-term sickness absence back to work and is modelled on various ‘Fit for Work’ pilot schemes that have tested various approaches to helping people overcome both clinical and social problems that prevent them working.
The DWP said there is no launch date yet, but the programme will start as soon as possible once the tendering process is complete.
The DWP said the occupational health assessment will ‘identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly’.
The announcement came as the DWP said nearly one million people were on sick leave for a month or more each year between October 2010 and September 2013.
The Government set up the support service as a way of preventing people ending up on long-term sickness benefits, as part of wider welfare reforms that it says have moved over half a million people off benefits since 2010.
The service will be funded by ending sick pay subsidies to employers, but the DWP says any loss to businesses will be offset by the reduction in lost working days and increased productivity – and estimates the programme could save employers around £70 million a year in reduced sick pay and related costs.
Work and pensions minister Mike Penning said: ‘More than 130 million days a year are lost to sickness absence in Great Britain, which has a substantial impact on workers, employers and taxpayers.
‘As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, we are taking action to get people back into work. This is a triple-win. It will mean more people with a job, reduced cost for business, and a more financially secure future for Britain.’