A government-commissioned review of sickness absence has recommended that an independent assessment service should take over return-to-work assessments from GPs.
The Independent Review of Sickness Absence also proposes that employers that take on people with long-term conditions are given tax breaks.
The review, led by Professor Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, and former head of the British Chambers of Commerce David Frost, claims that the changes could save employers £100 million per year from reductions to sick pay bills.
If the Government accepts the recommendations, GPs will sign people off work for up to four weeks. After that, the new assessment service will assess what work they are capable of doing with the aim of preventing people slipping into long-term absence within the first six months of becoming sick. Those signed off sick will receive less in benefits for the first three months.
Frost commented: “Evidence clearly shows that the longer you are out of work the harder it becomes to get back in. But, in many cases, sickness absence is due to health conditions that are nonetheless compatible with work – and can often be improved by work.
“The current certification system does not provide employers with the advice they need to make informed decisions about their employees’ capability for work. The establishment of the Independent Assessment Service will provide practical support and help to allow employers to make informed judgments about a return to work for their staff.”
Dame Carol added that if the recommendations are implemented, they will ensure that more people with health conditions can “enjoy the benefit of work”, with fewer falling into long-term benefit dependency.
She told the BBC: “What the GPs say is they don’t have time to do an in-depth functional assessment and nor have they had any training in occupational health, so we think it’s providing a new, unique service that both employers and GPs need.”
The review also recommends a new government-backed job-brokering service to help people unable to work in their current job to find employment elsewhere. The report estimates that the changes could save taxpayers £350 million per year.
Edward Davey, minister for employment relations, said that the Government would be looking at the proposals “with interest”.
“Sickness absence is an issue that affects everybody. The current system lets down individuals, businesses and taxpayers, which is why this review is such an important piece of work. As part of our efforts in reviewing employment-related law and removing the burdens on business, we have the opportunity to make a real difference – tackling sickness absence properly can increase business confidence, boost growth and help get people back into work.”