Researchers are looking into whether access to an occupational health service via their GP surgery will reduce the number of sick days taken among patients with physical and mental health conditions.
A previous study led by Keele University found that patients with back and/or joint pain who were given access to a brief OH service felt more confident about working.
Researchers at the university, working with academics at the universities of Southampton, Birmingham, Aston and King’s College London, are now adapting the service so that it can be tested with 720 patients from GP surgeries across the country. Consideration will also be given to how it can operate while Covid-19 is a risk.
Professor Nadine Foster, one of the academics leading the study, said: “Few of us receive support to manage our health at work despite the fact that our health affects our ability to work. We go to our GPs for support, but few GPs are confident in offering advice on how we should manage our physical and mental health conditions at work.
“We are developing a vocational advice service for patients whose physical and mental conditions affect their ability to work and will be investigating if this can reduce the number of days off work we take across the UK.”
Last year, the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme awarded Keele University £1.5m to investigate whether an occupational health advice service could reduce sickness absence.
The most recent sickness absence figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed that the average number of sick days taken by employees increased from 4.1 days in 2017 to 4.4 days in 2018.
Professor Foster said: “As the restrictions on workplaces ease over coming months, we will better understand the impact of the pandemic on work. We expect work to be more unstable for many people given financial challenges of many businesses and sectors, but the new normal of many more people working flexibly from home will also hopefully provide benefits with employers realising that this is possible and productive.”