As we have mentioned here before, the new Fit for Work service is now available right across England and Wales.
The aims and objectives of this important new service can be best summed up by the below from the Fit for Work website: “Fit for Work is a Government-funded initiative. Fit for Work is designed to support people in work with health conditions and help with sickness absence. Being in work is an important contributor to good health. The longer someone is off sick, the harder it is for them to get back to work. Research suggests that being out of work for long periods of time is damaging to social and financial well-being, and health.
There are two elements to Fit for Work:
- Free, expert and impartial work-related health advice via our website and telephone line.
- Referral to an occupational health professional for employees who have been off sick or who are likely to be off sick for four weeks or more.
The occupational health professional will identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work and produce a Return to Work Plan tailored to the employee’s needs.”
So this is unquestionably a step forward for the many thousands of micro-employers (and their employees) who currently have no Occupational Health service to tap into in the event of a long term illness of one of their employees.
Yet the service may be facing something of an image problem.
There has always been the nagging concern that the Fit for Work assessment may be confused with the Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA). For those not too familiar with the WCA, it can be summed up by the following quote from Wikipedia: “The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the test designed and used by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the United Kingdom to determine whether disabled welfare claimants or those suffering from long-term illnesses are entitled to the main out-of-work sickness benefit.”
It will be apparent to the reader that the two services have different objectives. The Fit for Work service is about early assessment and adjustments to get an employee back to work quickly (and therefore benefit the health of the employee and prevent longer-term absence), whereas WCA is focused on government payments to those long-term absent from the workplace. So very distinct services with very different aims.
The problem is that in the minds of employers and employees the two may already be confused – and in a way which could be detrimental to the success of the new Fit for Work initiative.
During November a critical study regarding the WCA assessment and its impact on patient mental health was widely reported in the national media as can be seen here. And the topic and confusion may have been further amplified on the comedy program The Now Show over the weekend.
This confusion with the Fit for Work offering has the genuine potential to be damaging to the success of the new service – which could in turn undermine the hoped-for reduction in long term sickness absence which would benefit employees and their families, employers, and of course the UK economy too. So it is to be hoped that the government take steps to clear up this issue in the minds of the public.
In the meantime those employers who intend to utilise the new service should seek to ensure that their employees are aware that employer and GP referrals to Fit for Work assessments are a positive move and not in any way linked to state benefit payments.
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