New Health and Work Service to get long-term sick back to work

People off sick for more than four weeks are to be offered advice to get them back to work more quickly under a scheme being set up by the government.

The Health and Work Service, which will cover England, Wales and Scotland, will offer non-compulsory medical assessments, starting in April.

It will be run by the private sector and paid for by scrapping compensation to employers for statutory sick pay.

Ministers say employers will save money overall by having fewer staff off sick.

They said it may save companies up to £70m a year in reduced sickness pay and related costs.

No law change

The new scheme will not entail any change to existing laws.

At present, staff who are off work for more than four weeks are considered to be long-term sick and entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of almost £90 per week from their employers.

That will not change under the new arrangements – but the government wants the Health and Work Service to cut the number of people on long-term sick leave.

Under the scheme, employers or GPs will be able to refer employees for a work-focused occupational health assessment.

This is intended to identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their GP and their employer, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly.

This may include fitness for work advice, medical care, working from home or retraining.

The scheme is not compulsory. BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam says workers will be allowed to refuse to follow the course recommended.


The service will be paid for by scrapping a compensation scheme for employers faced with high levels of sickness absence.

The Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS) is being abolished from April.

The Department for Work and Pensions says PTS is “an outdated system which does nothing to promote or support active management of sickness absences by either the employer or employee”.

Any financial loss to business from the ending of the PTS is expected to be offset by a reduction in lost working days, earlier return to work and increased economic output created by the new scheme, the DWP said.

It said the new scheme should particularly benefit small businesses without access to occupational health services.

Forced back

Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning said sickness absence had a “substantial impact” on workers, employers and taxpayers.

“As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, we are taking action to get people back into work,” he said.

“This is a triple-win. It will mean more people with a job, reduced cost for business, and a more financially secure future for Britain.”

The Trades Union Congress said it supported the principles behind the move and that being in a rewarding job with a supportive employer could be good for your health.

But it said care should be taken over how the scheme was implemented.

The danger was that people would be forced back to work before they were well.

Britain’s rate of absence through sickness is among the lowest in Europe and has halved over the past decade.