A new national occupational health service to help people on long-term sickness absence back into work will be launched later this year in England and Wales, the Government has announced.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the service will be run by Health Management Limited, owned by the company Maximus, and will be launched in ‘late 2014 with a phased roll-out coming to a close by the end of May 2015’.
The service will enable GPs to refer patients who are signed off work longer than four weeks for an occupational health assessment, from which patients will be given a return-to-work plan.
The DWP has modelled the programme on different aspects of pilot schemes run around the country since 2010. One GP-run pilot saw three-quarters of patients referred able to return to work.
According to the service specification, GPs will need to provide a valid fit note to cover the period from when they refer the patient until a return-to-work plan has been put in place, which should take around two weeks, but after that point they will no longer be required to sign the fit note.
The specification states: ‘DWP will provide guidance to GPs to ensure there is a valid fit note to cover the period from referral until a Return to Work Plan has been produced (two weeks). GPs and employer guidance will also explain that where an employer is in receipt of a Return to Work Plan, a GP no longer needs to issue a fit note.’
The DWP claims the new service will cut sick pay costs to business by £80 million – £165 million each year, and increase economic output by ‘up to £900 million a year’.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: ‘The introduction of the Health and Work Service is an important step in supporting employees, GPs and employers to manage sickness absence better.’
William Smith, managing director at Health Management Limited, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to support the DWP in helping people who are on sick leave to return to work.
‘[The Health and Work Service] will significantly extend access to health and work advice among the general working population. This will provide crucial support for individuals, ease pressure on GP surgeries and help employers maintain a healthier workforce.’