Categories:Employment,UK

New Health and Work Service

By Helen Brooks and Zachary Brown

Great Britain currently loses around 130 million days to sickness absence each year, with a significant cost to business and individuals alike. To address this issue, a new Health and Work Service is being introduced by the government in accordance with recommendations made by Dame Carol Black in her independent report published in 2011. The scheme will be rolled out gradually from the end of this year to April 2015.

The new service will be funded by the abolition of the Percentage Threshold Scheme for Statutory Sick Pay (under which employers are subsidised by the government if their liability for statutory sick pay in any month is more than 13 per cent of that month’s national insurance contributions). Consequently, employers will now be responsible for the whole cost of statutory sick pay for their employees. The Percentage Threshold Scheme currently costs the government £50m a year and is mostly paid out in small amounts to employers. Although employers will no longer receive these payments, the government estimates that the Health and Work Service will instead save employers up to £70m a year because employees will have less time off sick.

The service will comprise two elements. The first is the provision of generic health and work advice available to all (employers, employees and GPs) by means of a telephone advisory service and website. The second element is the provision of a free occupational health assessment for employees who have been, or are likely to be, on a period of sickness absence lasting four weeks. The assessment (which is to be approached from a biopsychosocial perspective) will identify the issues that are preventing the employee from returning to work and produce a plan that is tailored to the individual to help them to get back into employment. Employers themselves may also be able to refer employees to the service if an employee’s GP does not do so. The occupational health assessments will be conducted primarily over the phone and it is estimated that face-to-face assessments will be required in only five to 10 per cent of cases. Of the 878,000 people a year who are off sick for four weeks or more, it is estimated that a minimum of 350,000 people will use the service. However, the service will not be compulsory and employees are entitled to refuse to participate if they wish…

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