A fit-for-work service should come into play after an employee has been signed off work by their GP for about four weeks, national director for health and work Dame Carol Black has suggested.
Black, speaking at the launch of this year’s Confederation of British Industry/AXA absence survey, emphasised that the service should be free at the point of delivery, but not necessarily solely medical. Where appropriate it could, for example, also offer services such as debt counselling.
“I see it as a service that is a hub with spokes, that is case-managed and whatever is the need, there should be an opportunity for getting that treatment. But I would not want to over-medicalise it, either. I think we should be trialling different things,” she told delegates.
Work and pensions’ minister Lord McKenzie said that the government is looking into the feasibility of piloting the service, even though it is not expected to make a formal response to Black’s Working for a Healthier Tomorrow proposals until the summer. Describing the Black review as a clear and compelling case for action, McKenzie said: “We are exploring how to pilot a fit-for-work service.”
Black also revealed she had been shocked to find that when she started work on her review of workplace health there were no national standards for the delivery of occupational health, wellbeing or rehabilitation.
“If employers are buying in any of these factors, how do they know they are any good? There is no ‘Corgi’ mark attached to it,” she pointed out.
In a statement that went much further than the recommendations within her review, Black called for the establishment of a universal occupational health service.
“It is ridiculous that OH is only available if you are working in the NHS or lucky enough to be working in a company that has its own occupational health service. I would like to see – to put it bluntly – a national occupational health service,” she said.