Fit for Work Scheme Scrapped
The government has announced that its ‘Fit for Work’ scheme will cease to operate in March 2018. The scheme, which was introduced in December 2014, has already stopped receiving new referrals with effect from 15 December 2017.
Initially the service could only be used by GPs to refer patients, but in September 2015 it was extended so that employers could also refer staff who had been off sick for four or more weeks and offered them occupational health assessments and impartial advice to employers. It was intended to cut the cost of long-term sickness and the impact on both employers and the NHS by getting employees back to work sooner.
At the time it was expected that there would be 34,000 referrals made per month. However, the scheme has had a very poor take up – a survey earlier this year found that 65% of GPs had not made a single referral. For those that had, 40% said that no one they had referred had successfully returned to work. The survey also found that although 77% of the businesses questioned had heard of the scheme, only a quarter of them would actually use it. As a result, the government decided to withdraw the referral service. Instead there will be general advice on health and work and support for sickness absence available via telephone and a web chat service. However, any occupational health advice will now have to be obtained and paid for by the employer.
The government is also considering changing statutory sick pay to better support phased return to work. A consultation will be launched to consider new guidelines, which may include a reduction in the current level of statutory sick pay. It is also proposed that other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, senior nurses and psychiatrists should be given the ability to issue fit notes to ease the burden on GPs. This will also allow more specialist advice to be given as to when an employee is fit to return to work and any adjustments that should be made.