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Fit for Work Scheme, is it Fit for Purpose?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017
It’s been two years since the term “Fit for Work” was first published onto the NHS website. With long term absence from work continuing to be a growing concern, we ask whether the Fit for Work Scheme has actually made progress.

What is FfW?
The Fit for Work (FfW) Scheme was designed to reduce the amount of long term absences from work due to sickness. If an employee has been absent from work for 4 weeks or longer then it means that either their GP or their employer can refer them to the scheme. An individual plan will then be created for them, which attempts to identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work and signpost where and how they can get help, and ultimately return to work.
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What effect has it had so far?

It’s hard to evaluate how well FfW is actually doing due to the Department for Work and Pensions making the decision to not share their data and figures with the public yet. There are suspicions that the scheme has had a poor uptake, with uptake amongst GP’s being claimed to be “disappointingly low”, although it’s also been said that there has recently been a rapid rise in referrals from larger and medium-sized organisations.

In a survey conducted by EEF in 2016 of over 61,000 employees they found that 78% of respondents were aware of the service, and over half of businesses said they would use the service, but haven’t required to yet (if you’d like to view the full survey results then you can find them here). However 41% of companies also reported that long term sickness absence has been increasing for the past two years, but out of the 306 employers interviewed only 17 had used FfW! So, where is it going wrong?

How could the service be improved?

Phil Kirk, director of marketing and communications at Health Management, who manage the £170m FfW contract, suggests that the scheme needs to be more inclusive and widen its reach to “frequent flyers – staff who go off sick frequently but for just a few days at a time – as well as introduce self-referral for the growing army of self-employed”.

It’s also been released that the scheme has had a much higher uptake by businesses referring their employees to the scheme, rather than doctors referring their patients, Kirk also suggests that FfW should “pivot towards a business-led, rather than clinician-led service”.

People still believe that there are various issues with the scheme, from doctors not having the time and expertise to give proper advice within a fairly specialist programme to the belief that SME’s, that account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK, are being left behind.

The Fit for Work Scheme appears to be a great idea with the best intentions - to save businesses money and to help workers get back to better physical and mental health in order to return to work. The scheme isn’t even two years old yet so despite it appearing to not have gained much traction yet, only time will tell whether it has been executed well enough to make real difference.

If you’d like to find more information on the Fit for Work Scheme then click here.
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