In her presentation, Norma Bennie, the NHS project director for incapacity benefit, outlined the progress being made by the NHS in a pilot project in Argyll & Clyde relating to the reform of incapacity benefits.
The pilot involves 11 Job Centre Plus offices working in partnership with the NHS.
Incapacity benefit claimants attend a work-focused interview with trained advisers and are given choices to help them to return to work, one of which is voluntary participation in a condition management programme led by healthcare professionals.
Quite a number of people on incapacity benefit would benefit from support back into work, Bennie explained, as research into the deterioration of health when on long-term sick leave has revealed.
Research by Argyll & Clyde into participants on the scheme found that 45% have no daily structure to their lives, leading to poor physical and mental health, and 41% would like to take part in a programme to return to work.
Bennie said 35% had lost confidence in their abilities owing to long-term leave, and 34% would prefer a phased return to work. She explained that the process is a short-term work-focused programme, which is customer focused and flexible. She stressed the process is not treatment-based but promotes self help with professional back-up.
Research is being carried out to analyse the results of the pilot but so far about 1,600 people have successfully returned to work and the pilot funding has been extended.