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Plan to cut employee sickness absence questioned

18 February 2014

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The government’s new service to reduce long-term sickness has been questioned by HR experts. 

From April, GPs and employers will be able to refer employees who are absent for four weeks to the Health and Work Service for an assessment. 

A plan will be written for the GP, employer and employee to return to work more quickly by an occupational health assessor. 

According to the government, the service could half the amount of time people spend off work and save employers £70 million per year. 

But Tunstall Healthcare HR director Gemma Reucroft criticised the government for not providing enough detail on how the service would work. 

She told HR magazine: “Large employers are already likely to have occupational health services in place, so a service of this sort will not be relevant for them. It might be useful for some small employers, but I find it difficult to believe this will have a significant impact on employee absence generally.” 

Reucroft believes the advice is likely to be “generic” and not detailed enough to get employees back to work. 

Business consultancy Buck Consultants UK managing director of health & productivity Martyn Anwyl said: “The key value for employees and employers is not just aiding a return to work, but ensuring this is sustainable. A ‘generalised’ approach to occupational health delivery is unlikely to take full account of the specifics of an individual’s occupation or engage collaboratively with employers.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said the service will particularly support small and medium sized businesses, of which only one in 10 provides occupational health services to employees. 

He said: “The service will be delivered by healthcare professionals who have an occupational health qualification, occupational health experience, or are able to demonstrate experience and skills appropriate to working in an occupational health context. 

“These professionals will understand the nature and variety of GB’s workplaces and their expertise will ensure that the service will identify the full range of issues preventing a return to work and provide appropriate advice in line with best practice.”