The Department for Work and Pensions says it is scoping out a ‘clear direction and a strategy for future reform’ of occupational health after admitting its current approach is not working.
In the Improving Lives: Future of Work, Health and Disability white paper the government says: “We received widespread support for the position we set out in the green paper that evidence shows effective occupational health provision can help protect and promote employee health and wellbeing, and prevent unnecessary sickness absence long term.
But that: “The responses [in the consultation] confirmed that the current model of OH provision does not meet the needs of employers or individuals.”
To solve the problem, the government will be appointing an Expert Working Group on occupational health to evaluate technology, training and build the evidence base for new proposals by 2019/2020.
The government has also commissioned research into the market supply and operation of OH provision, which it says will be the ‘first contemporary information on the OH market’.
The paper, published in November 2017, is part of the government’s strategy to help one million more people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, including mental health, get into work and remain in work, by the next decade.
The ministerial forward states: “We want to build an approach which is responsive to an individual’s circumstances and ambition. Support must cater for every scenario and it must place the individual at its heart.
“For example... an office worker managing the pain of arthritis; a person with terminal illness who wants to carry on working; or someone with a fluctuating mental health condition trying to find work.
“Occupational health and other related professions and services have a critical role to play in delivering this vision."
Commentators welcomed the paper’s vision and steps, but said support for people of disability has been lacking for too long.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive of disability charity Scope said: “For over a decade, the disability employment gap has remained static at 30 percentage points.
“The pledge to get a million more disabled people into work is an important gesture but the publication needs to lead to swift action to make this a reality."
The plans came as the government was forced to shut down Fit For Work in December, its flagship occupational health referral scheme, after it failed to get off the ground.
Referrals of cases to the service by employers and GPs were just 650 referrals a month in England and Wales, compared with 34,000 that the government forecast, and 100 a month in Scotland, compared with the estimated 4,200, the DWP confirmed.
Improving Lives report at: tinyurl.com/y8y8npgm
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