Opinion: Good news on sickness absence
The Government will shortly make announcements about how they will tackle issues around the thorny subject of sickness absence, writes Simon Calvert.
Businesses will know that sickness absence can be a major drain on a company's resources, and both small and large companies can find long-term absence a major threat to their productivity.
The news that the Government is trying to make inroads into this problem is very welcome, particularly if it enables businesses to get workers back to productive work more quickly and helps them avoid situations where cases of sickness absence become long term.
One idea the Government is considering is the establishment of an independent assessment service to which GPs can refer patients after they have been absent from work for four weeks.
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A major problem in the present system is the disconnect between the doctor, who deals with the medical problem and signs people off work, and the employer, who manages the work environment to assist a phased return to work or to deal with particular issues that the individual has in the workplace.
An independent service may well be able to help tackle this problem, as well as the important non-medical aspects of sickness absence which GPs are often unable to manage in their clinical role, an example being debt problems, a common cause of stress.
At Fit for Work, we have had hands-on experience of dealing with these problems through managing the return to work process for cases which are referred to us by virtually all GP practices in Leicestershire.
We can see the benefits which an independent assessment service will bring.
However, a service will only be really effective if it is part of an end-to-end case-managed service which works with the patient from assessment, through the interventions, and back into work.
One of the most powerful messages from our work is that
78 per cent of people we help to return to work cite "non-medical interventions", such as mediation/negotiation, personal support and help with engaging with employers as the ones that made the most difference, rather than the clinical interventions that GPs are best equipped to provide.
If the Government does decide to introduce an assessment service, but doesn't provide for ongoing case management, this will leave the patients and the businesses for which they work in some difficulty.
Simon Calvert is managing director of the Fit for Work, in Leicester, which helps people return to work after illness.