In January this year the Government responded positively to the report produced by Dame Carol Black and David Frost “Health at Work – An independent review of sickness absence”. All the major recommendations made in the Black/Frost Review were accepted, a cornerstone being the establishment of a Health at Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAS)
The service will provide free advice and support to employers who have employees who are off work for over 4 weeks. Larger Companies frequently have access to Occupational Health Services, which help validate and verify the Fit Notes issued to their employees. Small companies, which make up the vast stock of companies in this country, do not access Occupational Health and therefore they frequently have to accept what the GP writes down on the Fit Note. The HWAS will provide a means of companies being able to validate what advice the GP is providing for an employee who is absent for over 4 weeks.
The other key recommendation, which is integral to getting employees back to work, is that expenditure by employers on medical treatment and rehabilitation targeted at keeping employees in work should attract tax relief.
The HWAS identifies a course of action to keep employees in work; the targeted tax relief allows a company to invest in treatment.
The intention is to launch this service in 2014 and hopefully it will be rolled out progressively across the country, lessons being learnt at each stage.
This new service has the potential to radically transform health in the workplace and to stop the tragic waste of human capital as employees drop out of work as a loss of contact with health professionals and their employers, results in often quite simple health problems morphing into something requiring far more attention.
Employers need to keep a watchful eye on how the service is developing. There are significant issues with the introduction of any major service such as this. For example where will precedence lie in the giving of advice – The GP/ HWAS or Occupational Health where relevant?
This and other issues will be resolved, but businesses also need to ensure that they have robust systems of data collection in respect of absence of all employees.