Free Occupational Health Service – Have You Heard of the Fitness For Work Service

Unfortunately, the management of staff on long term sickness leave is something that almost all organisations will have to address at some point.  The Government’s research into this area has produced some staggering statistics. Were you aware that in the UK close to 1 million employees will be absent for 4 weeks or longer every year, that sickness absence is estimated to cost UK employers £9 billion per year and that approximately 300,000 people will fall out of work and into the welfare system this year? Against this background, the Government is currently rolling out what could prove to be a revolutionary new Fit For Work Scheme (FFW).     

The FFW scheme provides free occupational health assessments and return to work plans with a focus on “getting people back to work”. The scheme is live now, albeit only GPs have the capacity to make referrals. The big change for employers will come at some point between now and the end of the year (to date the only information published suggests “Autumn 2015”) when they will have the ability to refer employees to the FFW scheme once an employee has reached 4 weeks of absence. This is likely to make a huge difference to employers (especially small and medium sized organisations) who will not only able to obtain a report without the worry of incurring costs, but will have a green light to refer employees after 4 weeks of absence. 

Employers are often nervous about referring employees to occupational health services too early and employees sometimes perceive a referral as a negative act on the part of their employer. The FFW scheme has the potential to remove these uncertainties and is likely to result in a change of culture which sees employees routinely referred after 4 weeks of absence. The scheme is not compulsory, but encouraging employers and employees to address long term absence at the 4 week point is in line with the Government’s stated aim of helping more people return to work at the earliest opportunity.

The FFW website claims that employees will be contacted within 2 days of the initial referral and that a face to face consultation will then be arranged within a further 5 days. The ability to meet these targets will be dependant upon both the efficiency of the service and the level of uptake, but the true success or failure of the scheme will not be capable of assessment for a number of years. What has shocked me is the lack of publicity over what is a ground breaking initiative capable of significant reform for employers and employees throughout the UK. Had you heard of the FFW before reading this article?

If you have an enquiry related to the FFW including how it should be incorporated into your policies an procedures please contact James Twine on 01752 292351.

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