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last updated:25/01/2013 @ 3:28 pm
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Occupational Health welcomes Government Response to sickness absence review

The Society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine jointly welcomed today’s response from the Government to the Sickness Absence Review. 

In particular, the Society and Faculty are delighted that the Government has accepted the need for a Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service for people who are off sick for more than four weeks. Both organisations look forward to working with the Government to help implement it and ensure that it lives up to its potential.

“Good work is good for health, good for business and good for the UK’s national prosperity.  The introduction of the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service announced today is an important step forward,” said Dr Richard Heron, President of the Society of Occupational Medicine. “For most people, work is a key factor in their self-worth, personal identity and family life – yet too many people are not able to access the specialist help they need to get back to work quickly enough when they become sick. Research shows that after only six weeks’ sickness absence, almost one in five people will eventually leave paid employment. The effectiveness of the new service will only be realized with improved access to quality assured specialist occupational health advice and tangible support, together with positive incentives for employee, employer and GP to use them.“

Dr Olivia Carlton, President of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine said “We are delighted that the Government has accepted the need for this new service and for incentives for employers and employees to access it. Evidence suggests that positive inducements to access these types of programmes and return to work would greatly improve the real and economic health of the nation.”

The Society and Faculty believe that the new Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service must be easy to access for all employees and use an efficient triage system so that those off sick can rapidly access the right, evidence-based support. Whilst the new service has to integrate with existing structures within the NHS, we believe there is also an opportunity for utilising innovative modes of delivery, for example by using new technology so less face-to-face time with specialists is necessary. 

Evidence suggests that for almost 80% of cases the barriers to returning to work may be ‘non-medical’ and include psychological and social factors so it is essential that the new Assessment Service providers have occupational health skills and understand the work/health interface.

“We are beginning to see a culture shift where there is a much greater understanding of the positive links between work and health,” said Dr Richard Heron. “If people fall out of work through sickness it can lead to poverty, ill-health and hopelessness and they can find it difficult to re enter the workplace. We know with the right range of help and support we can help people return to work more quickly.  This new service can be part of the solution – particularly for the vast majority of workers who don’t have access to occupational health services through their employer.”

Many people will return to work after sickness with minimal or no intervention needed. However, GPs should be able to refer to a specialist through this new service, particularly in more complex cases, just as they do for other health problems. Occupational health professionals who specialise in the interface between work and health are best placed to guide the actions taken in the early stages of sickness absence, which result in an earlier return to work and reduce the chance of job loss. They also recognise that employers should be encouraged to take a proactive approach to improving worker health. 

Both the initial report and the government response to it highlight the critical need for the Health and Wellbeing Boards to engage with occupational health specialists. A significant majority of the working age population are in work or are seeking to be employed making it essential that local authority specific health needs assessments are developed with input from specialist occupational health physicians.

Added: 25/01/2013 Posted In: Publications, Policy and Consultations