Fit for Work was an occupational health assessment and advice service looking to address long-term sickness absence. The assessment service was for employees who were on (or at risk of entering) long-term sickness absence, defined as four weeks or more, via a referral through their General Practitioner (GP) or their employer.
Research has been carried our to evaluate whether the Fit for Work service was implemented as designed and what the experiences of those that used the service were. The research has two parts:
- a process evaluation examining how the service was operated and whether it was working as intended
- a feasibility study which examined whether it was possible to assess the impact of the service on employment outcomes’
The reports look at the implementation of Fit for Work and people’s experiences of the service. We’ve summarised some of the key findings you may find of interest below.
Service take up
- Employers were the largest source of referrals: GP referral rates were affected by low levels of awareness of the service and its potential benefits amongst GPs.
- GPs and employers referred different kinds of employees: GPs were more likely to refer employees with mental health conditions, and employers were more likely to refer employees with musculoskeletal conditions.
- The intent was to support employers who did not have access to occupational health, particularly SMEs. In many instances the service was found to supplement support already in place to manage sickness absence, especially amongst large employers. Where the service engaged with employees in medium-sized organisations (those with 50-249 employees) they were more likely than other employer types to be satisfied that the return to work plan recommendations appropriately addressed the return to work needs of their employees.
- The consent process was generally effective: employees referred by their employer were less likely to have a good understanding of the service prior to engagement and less likely to feel they had a choice in their referral than employees referred by their GP.
What is effective and what is working less well?
- Drop-out before assessment was high.
- Some recommendations were felt to not be tailored to individual workplace context.
- Employees with mental health conditions experienced the service differently.
- The service was particularly valuable to medium-sized organisations.
- Two-thirds of people returned to work within three months: assessed employees felt the service made a difference, but some outcomes were linked to extrinsic factors.
- Demand from some individuals for support to change job: Most employees who returned to work did so to the same employer they were working for when they became absent from work (69 per cent of those returning to work by Wave Two). However, there were a group of employees for whom their workplace or job role caused or exacerbated their health condition; 15 per cent of employees had returned to work, but with another employer.
You can read the reports here.