A subsidy encouraging the purchase of occupational health (OH) services will be tested by government as part of a range of measures to help reduce ill-health related job losses.
It will also launch a workplace sickness absence information service for employers which appears to be a cut-down version of the Fit For Work (FFW) service that was closed in 2018.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed an overhaul of the statutory sick pay (SSP) system will not be considered.
The changes were published in the long-awaited DWP and DHSC response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation which ran in 2019.
In it, the government said along with the proposed measures other work was continuing to advance the work and health agenda, in particular in the area of prevention.
“We also want to ensure there is better integration between health and employment support services which will help people with long-term health conditions to enter and stay in work,” it said.
“The majority of employers agree that there is a link between work and the health of their employees. Employers who invest in the health and wellbeing of their workforce benefit from reduced sickness absence, increased productivity and improved workplace retention.
“Employees benefit from a supportive environment in which they can thrive and perform at their best,” it added.
OH employer subsidy
The measures it announced aim to help employers better navigate the work and health system, including enhancing resources to support Covid returns to work.
Testing the occupational health subsidy to improve employer access will come alongside the government’s strategy to reform the OH market.
This includes providing access to buying support for employers, exploring outcome-linked metrics to illustrate the value of OH services and helping employers to choose the most appropriate services.
It will also explore how government can support the development of innovative OH services, consider a potential new centre for work and health research and address capacity issues in the OH workforce.
Fit For Work revisited
The government said it will ensure that better integrated health and disability-related information for employers is made accessible.
This includes the national information and advice service which it has been working on with employers to understand their needs.
It will hold material designed to help manage common health and disability events in the workplace and will be developed with the needs of SMEs in mind.
This is remarkably similar to the now-defunct Fit For Work service, which was originally named the Health and Work Service.
A key part of that service, which launched in 2015 to help return staff to work and prevent absences, was to provide wider generic OH and workplace wellbeing information.
However, it was closed down after being under-utilised as GPs and employers rarely referred people either through lack of awareness or lack of trust in the service.
SSP and workplace legislation
The government will not be proceeding with a new right to request work or workplace modifications, but said it will consider measures to raise awareness and understanding around existing rights and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.
It has also asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to develop non-statutory guidance to support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to remain in work and on managing any related sickness absence.
The HSE will also explore introducing statutory guidance in this area.
On changes to SSP, the response said that the consultation posed several important questions on the future of SSP which require further consideration.
“Government maintains that SSP provides an important link between the employee and employer but that now is not the right time to introduce changes to the sick pay system,” it added.