Prior to 15 December 2017, the Government “Fit for Work" scheme provided free sickness management advice to employers. This was supported by an optional referral service to an independent occupational health consultant. Employers accessing the latter service would receive a tailored occupational assessment of their employee's ailment coupled with a "return to work plan".

However, with effect from the 15 December 2017 the referral service is no longer taking new referrals in England and Wales. All existing referrals will be wound up by 31 March 2018. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has withdrawn the funding which supported the referral aspect of the scheme, on the basis that there was a "low uptake" rate. Consequently, employers will now be expected to source and pay for any future occupational health reports.

The Fit for Work scheme in England and Wales is provided by a separate administration to the scheme provided in Scotland.  However, both schemes provide the following three core elements:

  1. An advisory website 
  2. A telephone line 
    • 0800 032 6235 (England and Wales) and 
    • 0800 019 2211 (Scotland)
  3. Live chat on health related issues
    • Monday - Friday: 8.30 a.m. - 6.00 p.m. (England and Wales)
    • Monday - Friday: 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. (Scotland)

Employers based in Scotland can continue to access the free occupational health referral service until a separate scheduled end date of 31 May 2018.

The removal of the referral scheme is part of the Government's long term strategy to influence and overhaul everyone's approach to ill health and work. There is an expectation that the usual "reactive" approach to ill health absence should be replaced with a "proactive" approach. Consequently, the Government is keen for employers and health providers alike to adopt the ideology that "prevention is better than cure". Preventing, avoidable health absences, would undoubtedly benefit the economy and "public purse". 

In a recent report entitled "Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability”, the DWP and Department of Health set out a ten year strategic plan of how it intends to work, in collaboration with employers and healthcare providers, to aid employees in preventing or overcoming health issues and remain employed.

Amongst some of the plans outlined in the report the Government has indicated its intention to:

  • Enable one million more disabled people to enter the labour market.
  • Increase the financial help available to individuals through the Access to Work scheme. See more information about this scheme in our blog here.
  • Ensure individuals can access personalised and tailored employment support.
  • Improve advice and support for employers of all sizes.
  • Reform Statutory Sick Pay and fit notes.
  • Increase access to psychological therapies services provided by health providers.

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