Fit for Work has now gone live in Harrogate and North Yorkshire. This means that all GPs in these areas are able to start referring employed people if they have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more with their consent.
Each year 11 million workers in the UK experience sickness absence. Almost a million of these people end up being absent for at least a month or more and research shows that, without the proper support, a high proportion will fail to return to their jobs resulting in a loss of earnings for them. Fit for Work is voluntary and offers free and confidential work-related health advice providing a vital line of support for workers wanting to return back to work.
With individuals collectively estimated to miss out on £4 billion a year through lost earnings, a service such as this offers a practical approach, for those likely to find they are unable to return to work due to ill health. Fit for Work is impartial and will provide much needed support for the hundreds of thousands of employees in North Yorkshire and Humber who might find themselves off sick and struggling to return back to work.
It is estimated that only 31% of workers are currently able to access occupational health services. The service is expected to be of particular value to small and medium-sized businesses that currently do not have this support to help staff to return to work earlier and manage the impact of sickness absence on their business.
From this week Fit for Work will be available across East Riding of Yorkshire, Hambleton, Richmondshire & Whitby, Harrogate & Rural District, Hull, North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Scarborough & Ryedale and Vale of York, as part of a gradual roll-out. Employees can speak to a GP about being referred or contact the Fit for Work advice line. Within two working days of a referral, the employee will receive an in-depth assessment with a health professional; this will usually take place over the phone to explore health, work and personal factors that might be preventing the person from returning to work.
Tim Maycock, Clinical lead Primary Care & Data Integration, Vale of York CCG said: I believe that Fit for Work will bring many benefits to local GPs and patients. It will mean that patients will now be able to access a support service which will enable them to return to work in a way that is tailored around their needs. A scheme that helps supports patients to improve their overall health and wellbeing and get back to work after a period of long term sick is something which has long been needed and this service should do just that.
Following the assessment, the health professional will create a Return to Work Plan, with recommended steps and advice for the employee and employer to help support a return to work. This plan could replace the need for doctors to issue repeated fit note relieving pressure on GP’s time.
Referral to Fit for Work is currently only available through GPs but employers are encouraged to signpost eligible employees to their GPs. Employers will also be able to refer their employees in the autumn once the gradual roll out for GPs has been completed.
Dr Lucy Goundry, Clinical Lead for the Fit for Work programme at Health Management Limited, which will deliver the new service, said: GPs are under more pressure than ever to deliver complex services. In such an environment, being able to support patients with high quality occupational health advice that takes a holistic approach, will help patients. GPs have long called for such a service and we are delighted to be able to provide an independent referral service that will make occupational health support accessible to the wider working population as well as provide a vital line of support for GPs in the North Yorkshire and Humber region.
Dr John Allingham – Kent Local Medical Committee, says: The introduction of Fit for Work in Kent and Medway is good news for patients and GPs alike. We know that being out of work for a while can be detrimental to the mental well-being of a patient, so a service designed to help them get back to work, in a way that suits them, is very welcome. The service could also save GPs time; they can now maximise the efficiency of their appointments by focusing on clinical issues, and can leave the occupational health queries to the Fit for Work professionals.