Fit for Work pilots unlikely to become a national service

The Fit for Work Service is unlikely to be rolled out nationally in the current economic climate, the author of the Government’s interim assessment of the pilot service has predicted.

In what is likely to be a blow to the hopes of many occupational health practitioners, the idea of there ever being a “National Health at Work Service” could be fading.

Jim Hillage, director of research at the Institute for Employment Studies and co-author of the Government’s first-year evaluation of the Fit for Work Service pilots, told Occupational Health magazine he was pessimistic that the service would evolve into a national network.

“My expectation is that it is unlikely to become a national service. It is probably too expensive and too narrow to fund nationally, so it may also be a question of whether mainstream support can be provided through GPs or some other organisations,” he said.

“I think we are likely to see more work being done with GPs to help encourage them to work more closely with employers to get people back to work more quickly. So that could be a Fit for Work Service, just in another guise,” he added.

The evaluation of the pilots, published in March, concluded that take-up had been disappointingly low and there had been difficulties in getting GPs on side, even though employers and employees who used it said they had found it useful.

This was despite the fact that one of the pilots, Leicestershire Fit for Work, reported its 1,000th referral from GPs and other health professionals during March.

Managing director Simon Calvert said: “Nearly all the 155 GP practices across Leicestershire have referred people to us and we have had great success in supporting people back into the workplace.”

The pilot is testing a one-to-one case-management model, with the development of personal action plans to get unwell individuals back to work. “Of those who commit to a plan, over 73% successfully avoid long-term sickness absence,” said Calvert.

In a separate development, an online poll by the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) has found that 90% of employers do not believe that the fit note is effective.

Diana Bruce, CIPP senior policy liaison officer, said that the results were disappointing, as the fit note was supposed to encourage better conversations between GPs and employers.

“If the communication channels are open from the outset with clear company policies, the easier the process should be for both employers and employees. The answer to this issue could well lie with the need for better sickness polices to be put in place at work,” she said.

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