Awareness of fit for work service low among employers and GPs

fit for work service

Seven months on from the launch of the Government’s new Fit for Work service, three-quarters of employers and 60% of GPs remain unaware of it.

The worrying statistic appears to indicate that ministers still have a long way to go to raise public awareness of the new flagship service, which is currently still in a pilot phase.

It is gradually being rolled out across the country, and has now been extended to South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg in Wales, which have joined the initial pilot sites of Sheffield and Betsi Cadwaladr.

Fit for Work has published a map showing the areas where the service will be rolled out over the coming weeks and months. Employers are expected to be able to refer into the service from the autumn.

The NHS Health at Work Network has also confirmed that it will be providing up to 50 clinic locations across England to deliver the service.

However, the lack of awareness of the service could still prove something of a stumbling block, even if awareness among employers is likely to pick up once they are actually able to refer employees into it.

The research commissioned by Cigna and carried out by pollster YouGov surveyed 1,000 GPs and 680 employers, with employers also being asked about the Government’s new £500 tax break for employee medical treatments.

For GPs, the findings included:

  • Two-thirds (61%) were not even aware of Fit for Work at this stage. Of those who were aware, more than one-third had not yet made their minds up about using it.
  • Of GPs who were aware but did not plan to use the service, the main reason was because they believed that it was the employer’s responsibility to address the problem of workplace absence.
  • More than half (53%) were yet to be convinced of the impact that the service would have in reducing sickness absence levels. Only 21% of GPs thought that the service would be effective at doing this.

For employers, the findings were:

  • More than three-quarters (76%) were unaware of service. Awareness was lowest among small businesses, where less than a quarter (22%) said they were familiar with it.
  • However, of those employers who were aware of it, almost half (49%) said they are likely to use it.
  • Awareness of the £500 tax break was lower still. Only 14% of employers had any knowledge of this, with small employers again representing the lowest proportion.
  • However, more than 40% said that their organisation would be more likely to fund medical treatments for absent employees as a result of this new tax relief scheme. And this rose to 70% of employers who were already aware of the tax relief.

Cigna UKHB managing director Phil Austin said the service itself was a positive step.

But he added: “The Cigna research points to a need for more widespread communication on the Fit for Work scheme. At the same time, employers and GPs need a better understanding of each other’s roles in managing sickness absence.”

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