More than nine out of 10 people off work with health problems could be helped to return to employment if they had better healthcare and workplace management, the government has said.
The finding, which is likely to be music to the ears of most occupational health professionals, is a key conclusion of the Department for Work and Pensions’ review into vocational rehabilitation, conducted by the Vocational Rehabilitation Task Group and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council.
This review, in turn, is expected to feed into the government’s response to Dame Carol Black’s review of workplace health published earlier this year as well as the government’s own ambitious plans for the reform of incapacity benefit (IB), which include reducing the number of people on incapacity benefit by one million by 2015.
A Green Paper on welfare reform and how the government would deliver “individualised back-to-work programmes” was published in July. It proposes that IB claimants will have to intensify their search for a job and comply with a back-to-work action plan.
IB will be scrapped by 2013 to be replaced with an Employment and Support Allowance for those who have a medical condition that prevents them from working and a Jobseeker’s Allowance for those who are able to work.
The vocational rehabilitation review, entitled Vocational Rehabilitation: What works, for whom, and when?, concluded there was strong scientific evidence for many aspects of vocational rehabilitation and that it made good business sense for employers to get their employees back to work.
But at the same time, it said effective return-to-work depended on early intervention tailored to individual needs and that workplaces needed to be more proactive and accommodating when it came to modifications.
Meanwhile, research by York University’s Social Policy Research Unit into mental health and employment, as part of the review, has concluded that between 20% and 60% of those going on to long-term IB could be kept in work.
Many employers and employees are very supportive of mental health conditions and the study, entitled Mental Health and Employment, concluded that the majority of people with mental health problems who had talked about their condition at work reported colleagues were positive and constructive.
Employers are keen to learn more about mental health issues and would welcome more contact with GPs about employees with mental health problems so they could plan better for their return to work, it argued.
Social Policy Research Unit professor Roy Sainsbury, who led the research team, said: “While constructive legislation and employer policies and contact between employers, GPs and other health professionals are undoubtedly part of the way forward in improving the employment experiences of people with mental health conditions, long-term progress possibly lies in changing attitudes towards mental health across all groups in society.”