It is early days for the Government’s new Fit for Work Service which opened its doors last month. Since September 2015, employers and GP’s can now refer anyone who is off sick from work for a free Occupational Health Assessment and a Return to Work Plan by an Occupational Health Professional as long as the following criteria are met:
1. They have been off sick for 28 consecutive days or more.
2. They have a reasonable chance of returning to work.
3. They live in the UK.
4. They are an employee of a company. The service is not available to the self-employed or unemployed.
In association with this new service, the Government has also introduced a new tax exemption of up to £500 per employee per year, for medical treatment to help employees return to work. To qualify, an employee must have been off sick for at least 28 consecutive days and the treatment needs to be recommended by an Occupational Health Professional.
As a Private Occupational Physiotherapy Company, Back in Action UK welcomes this initiative. Last year, sickness absence cost UK businesses in the region of £33bn. This is just taking into account the direct costs associated with decreased productivity as a result of absence. If you also account for the indirect costs, such as the associated increase in demand on the NHS and increased claims for benefits, the costs will be significantly higher.
Whilst many Companies engage with Occupational Health Services such as ours to help manage and reduce their absence, a YouGov poll in 2013 showed that 31% of employees work for Companies that provide no Occupational Health service at all. This is quite a gap to fill and it is these companies, namely small and medium size businesses, which the Fit for Work Service needs and must target. Whilst the service is available to aUK business of all sizes, larger Companies must find and use their own Occupational Health Services and realise that the Fit for Work service cannot be seen as a cheaper replacement.
Employers and GP’s should also be aware that the Fit for Work Service has its limitations where Private Occupational Health Services do not:
1. Employees can only be referred after being off sick for 28 consecutive days. 28 days is a long time: Private Occupational Health Services can take care of the employee and start having an impact from Day 1. We know from the research that early intervention is key in improving health and back to work outcomes. With the treatment of back pain for example, bed rest is one of the worst things to do in the acute stages of a back problem. Gentle movement, activity and work duties – where it is safe to do so – aid a much to a quicker recovery and future uninterrupted employment.
2. The Fit for Work Assessment and any other activity will be carried out over the telephone. Face-to-face intervention will be rare and in these exceptional circumstances, the employee may need to travel up to 90 minutes from his/her home.
3. The Fit for Work Occupational Health Practitioners will be skilled in the field of Occupational Health as a whole. They will therefore not have the specific knowledge about the Company’s industry and operations to be able to provide really effective and successful return to work plans.
4. Employees are only eligible to use the Fit for Work service once in a 12 month period. Therefore if their injury/problem returns after they have gone back to work within 12 months, employers cannot use the service again for this employee until another 12 months has passed.
Getting people back to work and keeping people at work is the right thing for everyone: for employers, for businesses, for the government, but mostly for us – the individuals. If we all work together we can surely have an impact.
To find out more about Fit for Work watch the video below.
To find out more about how Back in Action UK can help your business to thrive by looking after your most important asset, your employees, then please drop us a line.