As you can see on their rollout map, the service is now much more widely available than the initial areas of Sheffield and North Wales. The service is now available in large areas of eastern England, south-east England and much of Wales. So a definite step forward there.
That’s the good news. The less good news is that although the service is now available in a much wider geographical area, it is only currently accessible via GP referrals. The option for employers to direct their absent employees to Fit For Work is only currently indicated as starting in “the autumn”.
In the interim, it’s sadly rather likely that many absent employees will fail to be referred to this service. As we communicated recently, GPs have been slow to adopt the Fit Note (introduced in 2010) – so a swift engagement from family doctors with the new Fit For Work service may be rather unlikely.
Yet that does not mean that employers or employees are currently powerless to influence a referral to this service. There is nothing to stop the patient (i.e. the absent employee) actually requesting a referral by their GP. But for that to happen employees will have to be aware of the service and its aims and objectives. So proactive employers may want to educate their staff on the Fit For Work offering perhaps?
Of course, employers with more robust sickness absence and employee wellbeing initiatives may be able to take earlier action outside of the Fit For Work referral loop. Helplines, occupational health, private medical insurance and other health and wellbeing services are all options that can be initiated by the employer, and there is much evidence to indicate that early intervention often leads to much better return-to-work outcomes.