The Government’s Fit for Work occupational health assessment service is to be closed down two years after it was set up because it received less than 2 per cent of the number of referrals from employers that had been predicted.
Work and pensions secretary of state David Gauke told the House of Commons that there had been only 650 referrals a month in England and Wales, compared with a forecast of 34,000, while there were only 100 a month in Scotland, compared with an estimated 4,200.
The service, championed by Dame Carol Black and David Frost, had been intended to provide a free and independent assessment of any employee that had been absent from work for four weeks or more, with the aim of creating a return-to-work plan, including signposting toward appropriate medical interventions as needed. The idea for the service was floated in the Government’s “Sickness Absence Review”, published on 21st November 2011.
Gauke said that use of the advice line, webchats and Fit for Work website had exceeded expectations, and confirmed that this element of the service would continue. He also announced the appointment of an expert working group on occupational health and the launch of research into the supply and delivery of occupational health services.
Gauke said: “I am therefore ending the contracts for the provision of the assessments service in England and Wales and in Scotland, while ensuring continued access to the Fit for Work online and phone services, which will continue to offer general health and work advice as well as support on sickness absence.
“The Government are also announcing the appointment of an expert working group on occupational health to champion and drive a programme of work, taking an in-depth look at the sector.
“To inform policy development, we have commissioned research to better understand current market supply and the delivery of occupational health provision. This research will look at local partnership models to integrate health and wider support, and it will report in 2019. We will also take account of the lessons from the Fit for Work service as we move forward.”
Canada Life Group Insurance marketing director Paul Avis says: “The news about the removal of the assessments in the Fit for Work Service (FFWS) shows how badly thought through the implementation of this great idea has been. The FFWS scheme was funded by the removal of the SSP Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS) in April 2014. The PTS allowed employers to reclaim any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to employees over and above the set percentage threshold of their National Insurance contributions. At the time, trade bodies representing smaller employers confirmed that this change had put an additional financial burden on firms that had high sickness absence rates – particularly SMEs who clearly were, and are, struggling to bear the costs of long-term employee sick pay.
“The original business case targeted employer savings associated with sick pay costs, of between £70m–£160m per year and Government gains, through reduced welfare costs, of £20m–£40m per year. Additionally, increased tax and national insurance contributions through workplace attendance could increase this amount by approximately £40m-£100m per year.
“The plans were for improved employee productivity could also increase economic output, with an ambitious target of £240m–£520m per year and clearly none of this has happened. Referrals of cases to the service by employers and GPs have been much lower than expected. This is not unsurprising as with employees, employers and GPs all able to opt out of using the service, at any point, and with only £500 of tax free treatment provided without a P11d/benefit in kind charge, the value was always in question.
“On a positive note, use of the advice line, webchats and Fit for Work website has exceeded utilisation expectation and so continued access to the Fit for Work online and phone services, which will continue and will offer general health and work advice as well as support on sickness absence.
“While on the surface there is a commitment to support those with disabilities in the workplace, through areas such as workplace statements, what has not happened, despite all of the work that we have done as an industry, is the adoption of group income protection as the best way to retain those with disabilities in the workplace through active intervention and rehabilitation.
“The removal of the assessment support for employers now means that GIP is the best and, importantly, most viable option for active management of those who are absent, with early intervention services now becoming more important. Evidenced to provide ROI and average absence durations of 5-7 weeks, and with affordable options such as limited payment plans, there is now even less of an excuse to not be talking about GIP, now the FFWS assessments, the one potential tangible support for employers, are now gone. The industry is ready to step in using its service-based rehabilitation elements for all of those with insured GIP clients and my hope is that many more will follow in buying what has become, the priority employee benefit purchase.”
Grid spokesperson Katharine Moxham says: “This is a great shame after all the hard work that had been put in. Employers didn’t realise the value of what was available.
“But this is an opportunity for the group risk sector, which deals with rehabilitation issues extremely well.”