Fit for Work – Has the Government Gone Far Enough with Its New Initiative to Tackle Employee Absenteeism?

In Industry News, Protection by PCH Staff

The government’s radical new Fit for Work scheme has been implemented recently in an attempt to tackle the ‘sick-note’ culture that has emerged in the UK and costs the economy billions of pounds every year.

Under the new government initiative, anyone who is sick for more than four weeks will be referred by their GP to a company that will assess their situation and draw up a plan for their return to work.

The new Fit for Work scheme will cost £134 million over four years, but this is a drop in the ocean when you consider that instances of one month or more sickness cost the UK economy £9 billion per year. One of its main purposes is to curb the UK’s ‘sick-note’ culture and reduce the need for individuals from relying on benefits while on long-term sickness leave.

However, while the new government scheme has the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, who highlighted that he wanted to stop the “conveyor belt to a life on benefits”, it has raised concern with the British Medical Association (BMA).

The BMA has said that it will liaise with doctors and boycott the scheme if they felt that people were being forced back to work prematurely. In contrast, business leaders have called for the Fit for Work scheme to be made compulsory or there is the risk of it losing its effectiveness.

Health Management – the occupational health company running the Fit for Work scheme – will use trained nurses and occupational therapists to interview patients via telephone. Anyone deemed ‘fit for work’ will be offered a range of treatments like counselling, cognitive therapy or physiotherapy.

The minister for welfare reform, Lord Freud, said: “The introduction of the Fit for Work service is an important step in supporting employees, GPs and employers to manage sickness absence better.” He further added that “providing support where it is needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which in turn will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chance of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits.”

The Fit for Work scheme was originally piloted as a proof of concept in 20 GP surgeries and it is gradually being rolled out in other parts of the UK, with the overall goal being to make it nationwide by the autumn.

At long last we see the government looking to challenge the culture of sickness absence, but does this go far enough?

At Premier Choice we have since 2006 – via our award winning absence monitoring initiative – worked with many of our clients who have income protection to ensure that all potential extended absences are managed properly. Many of these clients have seen these benefits first hand and decided to extend cover to more employees rather than just senior management.

We believe that the government proposal is not the magic pill that will reduce absence, but more it should be seen as part of a structured approach to absence management that incorporates many other features such as income protection and a robust occupational health model that addresses many of the key issues employers are facing.

Premier Choice have a number of tailored solutions designed to meet all budgets that will allow employers to review their absence procedures, reducing time and effort spent managing absence…..allowing them to concentrate on running their business!”

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