The government’s ‘fit for work’ assessment service is entering its final resting place! Employers only have until 15th December to refer employees for a free fit for work assessment. Whilst the advice line and web based materials will continue, the assessment service will close completely in March 2018.
The service has run since 2015 and was a major step in providing occupational health assessments for those without an in-house service. But usage has been poor. The paper Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability, (DWP, November 2017) recognises that the service has had low take-up and that there is a lack of “conversations and collaboration” between GPs, employers and the Fit for Work service. We can only guess at reasons for the Service’s demise; perhaps poor publicity, lack of occupational health professionals, the perception that referral places further burdens on already overworked GPs. The above-named paper however also, notes that:
‘We want every individual to have access to appropriate and timely OH advice and support, to prevent short-term sickness becoming long-term, and to reduce the risk of people falling out of work’.
It includes a wealth of plans to support people with disabilities into employment and reduce instances of long term sickness. Including; revising the fit note, (similarly an initiative not in good health), statutory sick pay, the formation of an expert working group on occupational health to look at models of provision, funding, workforce development and use of new technology etc. All good areas to consider. But until then, what a lost opportunity this is for employers and their staff. And maybe all HR professionals need to share a modicum of blame, by not shouting out on the benefits of occupational health services, ignoring opportunities to get OH professionals’ input and, dare we say, often criticising advice if it doesn’t match our or more often managers’ views.
Rest in Peace.
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