NEWS: Fit for Work bows out after ‘very low take up’

The government is to shut down Fit For Work, its flagship occupational health referral scheme, after only two years of operating it.

According to its website, Fit for Work will stop running from 15 December, although the advice it publishes for employers and employees and the free telephone line will still be available.  

The announcement, slipping in almost unnoticed on the website, comes after the department for Work and Pensions confirmed there had been ‘very low take up’ of the scheme.

Stating in the Improving Lives: Future of Work, Health and Disability paper, which aims to help 1 million more people get into work over the next decade, it says:

“We want every individual to have access to appropriate and timely occupational health advice and support, to prevent short-term sickness becoming long-term, and to reduce the risk of people falling out of work.

Occupational health and other related professions and services have a critical role to play in delivering this vision.”

Fit for Work was intended to help people who have been off work ill for four weeks or more get back into their workplace. Photograph: iStock

But it continues that responses to the consultation show there have been problems with ‘capability’ of OH services.

Fit for Work has been dogged by failures since it was launched in September 2015 under David Cameron. It was designed as a free, voluntary and confidential service to support employees if they have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more. Both GPs and employers could refer patients to the service.

EEF found only 5 per cent of its members had engaged with Fit for Work in its report which compared 2016 to 2017 take up of the service.

Terry Woolmer, head of health and safety policy at EEF, said: “Companies are clearly not persuaded of the benefits of using it, either because they already have some form of occupational health provision or, they are content to rely on the NHS.”

Fit for Work was delivered by Health Management Limited, an independent occupational health provider, serving approximately 600 large public and private sector clients.

The DwP is now ‘working closely with partners and stakeholders’ to create a new strategy on occupational health.

An Expert Working Group on occupational health will be appointed to lead on the work, considering technology, training and building the evidence base, in order to develop new proposals and a position by 2019/2020.

An Independent evaluation on Fit For Work is also due to be published in Spring 2018.

It is estimated that employers pay £9 billion a year for sick pay and associated costs. Each year, around 815,000 working are off work sick for four weeks or more.