The Government has launched a new “Health for Work” sickness absence advice line that, it is hoped, will encourage smaller employers to better support workers on sick leave.
The free advice line will be run by NHS Plus and provides help and support to organisations in England with fewer than 250 employees.
The launch follows a pilot that NHS Plus said had provided 2,000 one-to-one advice sessions, with a 98% satisfaction rate and more than 4,000 website visits.
Firms can access the line in one of three ways: a freephone telephone number – 0800 0778844; online self-service access; and online “chatting” with staff in a call centre.
The advice line, the latest in a number of similar schemes launched over the years with varying degrees of success, directly follows on from the Government’s announcement back in February 2011 that it was prepared to commit £12 million to its development and the then national director for health and work Dame Carol Black’s proposed Fit for Work Service.
It also follows on from last November’s review into sickness absence by Black and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
One of the most distinctive elements of this latest initiative – and perhaps one of the most important for OH practitioners – is that the advice is being offered by NHS Plus, as Black recognised.
“The Health for Work advice line provides managers in small and medium-sized businesses with access to high-quality professional occupational health advice, getting employees back to health and back to work,” she said.
The work and pensions minister Lord Freud also stressed that the line was “a significant” element of the Government’s plan to create healthier workplaces.
“It gives small and medium-sized businesses access to professional and tailored occupational health information, advice and guidance. This means that employers can support the health of their employees to reduce incidents of sickness absence, help their timely return to work following mental or physical ill-health absence, and help to reduce the numbers claiming sickness benefits,” he said.
Dr Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser to manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, added: “Employers can now receive professional advice that is tailored to their needs, helping them to retain an employee’s services or assist them back to work sooner after a period of sickness absence.”