The Government has announced that Fit for Work assessment services will close next spring, following low referral rates.
Employers, employees and GPs will continue to be able to use the Fit for Work helpline and website for workplace health advice and support on sickness absence, but from 31 March 2018 in England and Wales, and 31 May 2018 in Scotland, assessments services will cease.
Fit for Work resources
The Fit for Work referral service provides free access to an occupational health professional for people who are off work for four weeks or more.
The Department for Work and Pensions said an expert working group on OH has been appointed to take an in-depth look at the sector.
A survey by GP magazine this summer found that 65% of GPs had not referred a single patient to the Fit for Work service and that a lack of publicity was the cause.
A study by Willis Towers Watson health and benefits team in March found that only 21 of HR professionals had used Fit for Work
The scrapping of Fit for Work assessments came as the Government announced ambitious plans to get one million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years.
A report, Improving Lives: the future of work, health and disability, sets out how Government will work with employers, charities, healthcare providers and local authorities to break down employment barriers for disabled people and people with health conditions over the next 10 years.
Work and pensions secretary David Gauke said: “Everyone should be able to go as far as their talents can take them, but for too long disabled people and people with health conditions have been held back from getting on in work.
“Today we’ve set out an ambitious 10-year strategy to end this injustice once and for all. By bringing employers, the welfare system and health services together we’re taking significant steps to ensure everyone can reach their potential.”
The Government has also said that all 40 recommendations of the recent Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers will be progressed, including reform of statutory sick pay and the introduction of a framework for large employers to voluntarily report on mental health and disability within their organisations.
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “We welcome the broad acceptance the recommendations made in the Stevenson/Farmer review and the Matthew Taylor Review of good work designed to improve not only how employers recruit, but progress the careers of, people with a disability or health condition. By encouraging greater transparency and better reporting of action taken as suggested, Government can help inspire wider change in employer practice.
“Proposals such as reforming statutory sick pay to facilitate flexible working and expanding fit note certification to other healthcare professionals will need further development work and legislative change. We welcome the fact that the Government is taking the time to research and demonstrate a sound evidence base on other proposals, such as determining what incentives could motivate employers to invest in people’s health.”
More than 5,000 companies have now signed up to the Disability Confident scheme to promote disability inclusion.
Sarah Kaiser, diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu, said: “Fujitsu has significantly benefited from being Disability Confident, giving us access to untapped pools of talent and enabling us to increase our retention of employees with disabilities.
“We have also worked with our employees with disabilities to ensure our products and services become even more accessible, benefitting our customers too. This is not just the right thing for employees, but also significantly helps the employer.”