The new Health and Work Service supplier is announced
Following a five month tender process, on 25th July 2014 it was announced that the government’s new Health and Work Service in England and Wales will be provided by Health Management Limited, a MAXIMUS company. The company is the UK’s largest independent occupational health provider.
The government has reported that 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year on average between September 2010 and October 2013. It is reported that nearly one million employees a year reach the four-week sickness absence point which requires the state to spend around £12 billion a year on the health-related benefits and £2 billion in foregone taxes. Employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs.
It is still anticipated that the service will launch in late 2014 and will be rolled out in phases until May 2015. The service intends to assist employers and employees in managing sickness absence. If an employee is expected to be absent or is absent due to sickness for more than four weeks they will be helped to return to work by providing them with an occupational health assessment. An employee will normally be referred by their GP and a return to work plan developed to share with their employer and GP.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has said “Providing support where it is needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which, in turn, will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chances of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits”.
This service will be welcomed by employers as long term ill-health absence is often very disruptive and can be difficult to predict. Mistakes can also be very costly for employers due to potential disability issues. Clear direction in the form of a return to work plan is therefore a good starting point. The success of the initiative will however be tested in how informative and proactive the reports are at getting employees back to work quickly and whether sufficient investment is made in supporting the service, especially if GPs err on the side of caution and there are more referrals than anticipated.