The government is to implement a new independent assessment and advisory service aimed at getting people back to work and away from long-term sickness benefits.
The scheme, which was announced by the minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, is intended to save employers up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.
It is part of the government’s response to the recommendations set out in the Sickness absence review, which was presented by Dame Carol Black, national director for Health at Work, and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce in November 2011.
The new scheme will enable employers of all sizes to access expert advice to help them manage sickness absence in the workplace. It will ensure employers receive bespoke, independent advice for cases of sickness absence lasting for more than four weeks.
Freud said: “Long-term sickness absence is a burden to business, to the taxpayer and to the thousands of people who get trapped on benefits when they could actually work.
“So, for the first time, all employers, big or small, will have access to a service that offers the early support they need to keep people in work and fulfil their aspirations.”
Black added: “I very much welcome the government’s decision to press ahead with the new independent assessment and advisory service which [Frost] and I recommended in our review.
“A new independent assessment and advice service will address the sick-note culture and offer people the best possible support to get back to work quickly.
“What [Frost] and I found in our review is that far too many people with potentially manageable conditions, such as stress or back pain, are effectively being signed off work for life, sliding from a short spell of sickness absence to a life of long-term benefit dependency.
“The changes being made by the government will begin to change that. They will ensure that employers and employees get the best possible access to occupational health advice and support. And the new service will also provide much-needed support for GPs too, so they can spend more time helping their patients and less time having to police the benefit system.”
Frost added: “Employers consistently report that the current system does not provide their employees with enough support to enable a smooth and planned return to work.
“The proposed advisory and assessment service will give clear advice on which a business can make a judgement about when and on what circumstances their employee will return after a period of absence.
“Overall, the measures proposed will reduce costs to business and prevent people needlessly going onto sickness benefits.”
The independent occupational health assessment and advice service is expected to be up and running in 2014.