The government is set to launch a cross-departmental health drive designed to help reduce workplace sickness absence and address the issue of back-to-work rehabilitation.
Plans for a health, work and well-being charter are being developed by several major government departments and agencies, to establish a more joined-up approach to dealing with absence.
Dr Sayeed Khan, an HSE commissioner and chief medical adviser of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said patient management needed to be more holistic, with input from employers, government and GPs.
“These are the issues we’re talking about now, so we are moving in the right direction. We need to improve the current situation around sicknotes and I think that means more training and better knowledge.
“Employers need to be more proactive, by playing a role in rehabilitating and helping people get back to normal. Treatment by sicknote is a fallacy – what we really need are early and active interventions,” he said.
Last month welfare reform minister Margaret Hodge criticised the current sicknote system and urged doctors to think much harder before signing people off work.
“Doctors should consider and reflect before they issue a sicknote as carefully as they consider and reflect before prescribing a drug. We need to change the culture that sees work as a threat to well-being. Rehabilitating people back to work should be part of the cure,” she said.
Khan told Employers’ Law that staying away from work was very rarely helpful in patient rehabilitation, and recent figures show that 3,000 people per week now qualify for long-term sickness benefits – 80% of whom will never return to work.
“There are very few conditions of this type that are improved by rest. The GP, employer and individual should all be thinking about what else they could do,” he added.
The government is set to make an announcement on the charter in the next few months as UK plc struggles to cope with the 2.7 million people on long-term sickness benefits.