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National “Fit For Work” Service to be scrapped in 2018

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Low referral rate blamed for programme’s failure as government announces possible changes to statutory sick pay.


The government’s national ‘Fit for Work’ occupational health scheme is to be scrapped as part of a revised strategy to get more disabled people working. 


Fit for Work was initially established as a free, GP-led service, before being extended to allow employers to refer staff in September 2015. It offered impartial advice to employers, and occupational health assessments for employees who were off ill for four or more weeks – aiming to reduce the bill for long-term sickness by getting individuals back to work as early as possible.


However, the scheme has been beset by poor take-up and complaints from employers that felt it either replicated their own occupational health efforts or was too poorly publicised to have a significant impact on long-term illness.


After months of uncertainty over its future, the government has now pulled the plug on the scheme. A new paper, Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability, states that Fit for Work’s assessment services will end in England and Wales on 31 March 2018 following “low” referral rates. Employers, employees and GPs will still have access to its helpline, website and web chat service, which offer general health and work advice, as well as sickness absence support.


In August, a survey run on behalf of People Management by GP magazine revealed that around two-thirds (65 per cent) of GPs had not referred a single person under the Fit for Work scheme in the last year and, of those who had used it at some point, 40 per cent said no one they had referred had successfully returned to work.  


The latest white paper set out government plans to change the delivery of in-work programmes, personalised financial and employment support, and specialist healthcare services. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said this was to help more disabled candidates into work through partnerships with employers, charities, healthcare providers and local authorities. In a pilot phase, two employment trials will be launched in the West Midlands and Sheffield City Region combined authorities.


The government is also considering changes to statutory sick pay “to better support phased returns to work”. A consultation will be launched to consider new guidelines that may include a reduction in the current level of pay.


Comment: Was anyone ever impressed by this service at any point, if used at all?


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