The sickness statistics
In a recent government press release announcing the new Health and Work Service, it estimated that almost 1 million (960,000) employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year (on average) between September 2010 and October 2013. Other statistics in the press release included £12 billion a year, which is the amount the state spends a year on health-related benefits, £2 billion a year in healthcare and foregone taxes and a further £9 billion a year which is the bill faced by employers for sick pay and associated costs. Individuals also miss out on £4 billion a year through lost earnings because of sick leave. Against this statistical backdrop, the government plans to introduce a new Health and Work Service.
The new service
The new Health and Work Service aims to assist employees on sick leave by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, more than 4 weeks’ sickness absence. Employees will normally be referred by their GPs. A resulting return to work plan will be shared with their employer and GP. More general health and work advice will be available to GPs, employers and employees via telephone and a website.
What are the costs?
According to government figures, the new Health and Work Service is predicted to cut sick pay costs to business by £80 million to £165 million a year, as well as increase economic output by up to £900 million a year. There is also a planned tax exemption of up to £500 a year per employee on payments for medical treatments recommended by the Health and Work Service or employer-arranged occupational health service will be introduced.
Will the new service work?
Will having access to a telephone helpline really provide the ‘hands-on’ help and advice employers need in long term sickness cases? Will in fact the new system fail to hit the mark and many employers will either have to pay for their own occupational health assessment or continue to leave long term sickness absent employee files in the ‘too difficult’ pile? We will have to wait and see if the new Health and Work Service will be able to deliver on the impressive figures it has been set to achieve.
To read more about the government’s own statistics, see its press release at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/health-and-work-service-supplier-announced
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