• There has been little fanfare in relation to the Government’s proposed new Health and Work Service which is planned to launch in late 2014, and indeed many employers may not have heard about it. This article looks at what the proposed service is, and how it is expected to work.

    What is it?
    The Health and Work Service is intended to provide advice and support to encourage a return to work for employees on sick leave by providing independent occupational health assessments when sickness absence levels reach (or are expected to reach) more than 4 weeks.

    The tender to provide the service has recently been won by Health Management Ltd, a Maximus Company. In Scotland, the service will be delivered by the Scottish government on behalf of the UK government.

    Why is it being introduced?
    Figures from the period September 2010 to October 2013 suggest that every year on average 960,000 employees were on sick leave which lasted for a month or more. The state spends in the region of £12 billion a year on health-related benefits and £2 billion a year in healthcare and foregone taxes. Add this to employer’s costs of around £9 billion per year for sick pay and associated costs, it becomes clear why the government considers it important to seek to reduce sickness absence in the workplace.

    How will it work?
    It is envisaged that employees will be normally be referred to the service by their GPs. Any resulting return to work plan will be shared with their employer and GP, although it will be possible for an employer to refer an employee to the service direct in some circumstances.

    Following a referral, a case manager will support the employee through the assessment process and will identify appropriate steps to get them back to work. More general health and work advice is also expected to be available to GPs, employers and employees via a telephone helpline and a website. How the service works in practice (eg timescales for assessment etc) will only be finalised once it is up and running.

    The intention is that the service will provide a holistic assessment of employees by looking at non-health and non-work issues as well as those directly related to work or health in considering the return to work options. A tax exemption of up to £500 a year per employee on payments for medical treatments recommended by the Health and Work Service or employer-arranged occupational health service is also expected to be introduced.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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