Contracts for national occupational health service to be unveiled in April

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The Government formally unveiled its new occupational health (OH) Health and Work Service to the general public last month.

The service is expected to be launched nationally from April 2015, with a number of pilots running from October this year. It is anticipated that contracts for the service, which the Government confirmed it expects will be run by a commercial operator, will be awarded this April.

Much of the detail of the service will by now be familiar to OH practitioners. The Government, for example, confirmed that the service will help employees who have been on sickness absence for four weeks or more to return to work. It will offer a work-focused OH assessment and case management to employees, with both GPs and employers able to refer employees to the service.

The OH assessment “will identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly”, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.

This plan will include a timetable for a return to work and fitness-for-work advice, as well as signposting to appropriate help. “Employees will be supported throughout their time with the service, so they can return to work as soon as they are able to,” the DWP added.

An online and telephone advice service will run alongside the service, which will be funded through the abolition of the Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold Scheme.

The Government has said it expects the service to save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.

Work and pensions minister Mike Penning said: “More than 130 million days per year are lost to sickness absence in Great Britain, which has a substantial impact on workers, employers and taxpayers.

“As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, we are taking action to improve getting people back into work. This is a triple win. It will mean more people with a job, reduced cost for business and a more financially secure future for Britain.”

Alongside the formal launch, the Government published figures from the Office for National Statistics revealing that nearly one million people – 960,000 employees – were on long-term sick leave (defined as absent for one month or more) in each calendar year from October 2010 to September 2013.

Of this, musculoskeletal conditions accounted for 33% of the total, while mental ill health accounted for 20%. The majority of the long-term sickness was seen in the 50- to 64-year-old age bracket, followed by the 40- to 49-year-old bracket.

In terms of sectors, public administration, education and health accounted for 41% of the total, followed by distribution, hotels and restaurants (17%), with banking and finance and manufacturing both on 12%.

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