by Personnel Today“Build it and they will come" said the protagonist in the film Field of Dreams. But the fact they didn't for the Fit for Work service means the government may need seriously to rethink how occupational health is delivered. Shutterstock.
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The government will need to widen its focus beyond traditional occupational health if it wants to build support for its reforms among smaller employers and avoid repeating the history of Fit for Work, writes Dr Syed Zakir Abbas.
“Build it and they will come.” These words echoed in the ears of Kevin Costner’s protagonist, Ray Kinsella, in the Hollywood film Field of Dreams, leading the novice farmer to flatten his corn crop and build a baseball diamond in the middle of the Iowa countryside. Only, instead of welcoming an all-star team and crowds of adoring fans, he sits alone – watching intently a game nobody else can see.
When Fit for Work was introduced as a national scheme, envisaged to solve workplace health, the low uptake resulted in a similar disappointment. Just like Ray Kinsella’s baseball field, nobody came. In fact, when the contract for the assessment service was terminated early, referrals were running at less than 2% of government predictions.
About the author
Dr Syed Zakir Abbas is chief medical officer at Unum UK
The failure of Fit for Work and its attempt to solve workplace health through a national scheme contracted from Whitehall poured cold water on ambitions for even greater state provision – policymakers envisaged eventual “integration of occupational health into primary care” as recently as in November 2017’s Improving Lives.
But we could yet be in for a resetting of the agenda, with the government in July publishing its long-awaited consultation on workplace health provision and support.
The ins and outs of that consultation process have been written about elsewhere but what is clear is that, while the government’s good intentions are undeniable, turning good intentions into good policy can be extraordinarily challenging.
As any policy is made – documents published, stakeholders assembled, commitments made and reiterated – it builds a sense of momentum that can make it difficult to slow, stop, or steer.
Policy can quickly be sent forward by this inertia into a land of unforeseen consequences. In Fit for Work’s case, promising pilots led to an ambitious green light for a service that hadn’t won the hearts and minds of employers.
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