FWS provides occupational health assessment and advice nationally across England and Wales, offering a unique opportunity to adopt a proactive approach to addressing sickness absence and its consequent problems. The plan is to support a reduction in the length of sickness absence and reduce the resulting impacts on employers, individuals and the State. This will hopefully be achieved by offering a service that delivers both a supportive occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and General Practitioners (GPs).
The power of occupational health in assisting individuals to return to work more quickly and effectively after a period of sickness absence has long been recognised by health insurance providers like us. Our medically trained rehabilitation team is vital to our claims management proposition and works closely with employers and their absent employees to achieve a speedy return to the workplace.
The FWS scheme is funded by the removal of the SSP Percentage Threshold Scheme in April 2014. Employers could save between £70m–£160m sick pay per year and Government make gains of £20m–£40m per year through reduced welfare costs. Increased tax and national insurance contributions through workplace attendance could increase this amount by £40m-£100m per year and improved employee productivity could also increase economic output.
Employers will need to obtain employee consent before referring them to the FWS. Estimates from the DWP suggest that FWS could help between 229,000 and 457,000 employees per year. This estimate reflects the fact that this is a new service and there is uncertainty around engagement volumes.
The FWS scheme is certainly a step forward. The health related interventions recommended attract an employer tax exemption up to £500 and the initial pilots are being run by Health Management Limited, an established Occupational Health provider.
While it is not replacement for a full vocational rehabilitation plan, like those offered under an insured group income protection scheme, it is at least signifying the need to address absence in the early stages. For our part, we are watching this initiative and are keen to see how it can work alongside Group Income Protection cover. Meanwhile, we will continue to ensure that the services core to our products (such as vocational rehabilitation support, employee assistance programmes, legal support services and second medical opinion services) are promoted and used as valuable support by employees’ covered by our schemes.
It is quite timely that we are also launching further support with an online Treatment Sourcing Service, offering best price, all inclusive treatment packages. These could be funded by employers or employees (for themselves or family members). Perhaps this could be a good way to follow on from the FWS support, to ensure the Return to Work momentum is not lost.
Whilst we are a long way off attaining the desired position,- where everyone is clear on what happens, when and how, when dealing with absence – at least FWS plans will start the Return to Work dialogue and that alone is a good thing.