Sickness absence, a new approach

By Richard Halstead on Jan 24, 13 02:35 PM in Economics

The government has finally responded to the Frost/Black review of sickness absence recommendations which was published back in November 2011. The initial review was aimed at making a step change in the issue of tackling both short and long term absence, a problem that still costs the UK economy large sums each year

Getting people fit and back to work quicker is even more critical when we are trying to lever every opportunity for growth and, the government's response to Frost/Black does take the government's efforts to tackle sickness absence onto a new footing.

In particular, the proposal to implement the Independent Assessment Service after four weeks of absence is a welcome development. The four week cut off whereby an employee would have to be referred to the Service by their GP to see what they can do rather than what they cannot do is a critical time, coming just ahead of the six week period which research shows is the tipping point where employees are significantly less likely to return to work.

This new service should aid the process of rehabilitation and getting people back to work, whilst cutting the social and economic costs of absence. However, we would urge government to revisit plans to fund the centres as the current proposals do not go far enough and may leave a shortfall. However, whilst the majority of the government's response was welcome, it did not go as far as it could have done in two areas.

Firstly, whilst the government response does raise the prospect of tax relief for employers paying for private treatment as a result of independent assessment it should have gone further to include treatments such as physiotherapy, private medical treatment, health & well- being promotion and healthcare insurance. Not only would this encourage more employers to pay for such treatment for their employees it would help ease the pressure on the NHS.

Secondly, EEF is concerned at the absence in the government response of any proposals to improve the effectiveness of the 'fit note'. Whilst EEF supports the 'fit note' our latest annual sickness absence survey published with Westfield Health shows that whilst 30% of employers say it has made a difference (compared to 11% who find it less helpful), almost 60% of companies say it has made no difference to date. As such, more effort still needs to be made to embed this culture if it is to succeed, including the introduction of the electronic fit note as soon as possible.

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