Fit for work scheme failing to help tackle long-term absence

A RECENT survey has revealed that the government’s flagship fit for work scheme is under-utilised, despite being brought in to give millions of workers access to free occupational health advice and support.

The survey by GPonline found that two-thirds of GPs had not referred anyone in the last year. Of those who had used the scheme, 40 per cent advised that no one successfully returned to work and 61 per cent felt the scheme was not very effective, with 15 per cent saying it is very ineffective.

Feedback included criticism that the scheme had not been well publicised and that there is too much overlap with many employers’ own occupational health providers. Practices may want to ensure their sickness absence policy incorporates details of the fit for work scheme so that employees are made aware of the available support.

The scheme was introduced in September 2015 to help reduce the long-term sick bill by offering impartial advice to those employees who have been off work for four or more weeks.

It was hoped that the initiative would make it more likely for an employee to return to work after a period of absence and reduce the risk of a more lengthy absence or leaving employment altogether. As a result, employers would be better able to manage sickness absence.

Latest absence figures show the average level of employee absence is 6.3 days per employee and the overall median cost of absence per employee is £522. Absence of eight days or more accounts for about one third of total absence, with four weeks or more accounting for around a fifth.

Practices are unable to reclaim back Statutory Sick Payments (SSP) as these are now used to fund the schemes. Further details on the fit for work schemes in England and Scotland on the respective websites.