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Government Review of Sickness Absence

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Each year, around 11 million employees take sickness leave. Of these, 300,000 go on to claim health-related state benefits. In all, this costs the taxpayer £13 billion, and £15 billion in economic output is lost through sickness absence. As the population of Great Britain is both increasing and ageing, the problem is only likely to get worse.

Whilst the fit note system introduced in April 2010 gives a person’s GP the opportunity to provide information on how their health condition might affect their ability to work and advise on what workplace adaptations or adjustments could help facilitate a return to work, the majority of those seeking a medical certificate are signed off as unfit for work.

To find ways of minimising the loss of work resulting from ill health and to reduce the burden of costs, the Department for Work and Pensions commissioned an independent review to be carried out by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE, which has now been completed. The report, ‘Health at Work – An Independent Review of Sickness Absence’, contains a number of recommendations.

The report acknowledges that the primary role of GPs is the care and treatment of their patients and recommends that an Independent Assessment Service (IAS) be established to take on responsibility for worker assessment. The IAS would assess an individual’s physical and/or mental needs and advise on their capabilities, providing early supportive intervention to help them return to the workplace where possible. The IAS would be accessed when an individual’s absence from work has lasted for around four weeks.

In addition, the report recommends the introduction of a state-funded job-brokering system to help workers on long-term sickness absence to find new work, where appropriate, before they fall onto the benefits system. This would extend the potential number and type of jobs to which a worker could be redeployed by looking outside the possibilities available in their existing employment.

The Government has said that it will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the review’s findings and recommendations with a view to publishing a response during 2012.