Occupational health policy out for consultation

The Government has launched a consultation paper aimed at retaining and attracting back employees with health and disability issues.

Man having a doctor's appointment


The Government has launched a consultation on ways to increase uptake of Occupational Health provision, including through expanding an Occupational Health pilot for SMEs and providing Universal Support to get people with health and disability issues back to work.

The consultation is part of the Government’s response to high drop-out rates among older workers during the pandemic. It believes better Occupational Health provision can stop workers from dropping out in the first place.

The proposals include a possible legal requirement to offer a basic level of occupational health services to staff and the provision of a national “health at work” standard for all employers to provide a baseline for quality Occupational Health provision, which includes guidance, an option to pursue accreditation and additional government support services – for example, outreach workers to support SMEs to meet the standards.

It is also seeking views on issues including encouragement for NHS leavers or those who are considering a career change to pivot towards an Occupational Health specialism and the development of a longer-term, multi-disciplinary workforce to provide Occupational Health services.

The Government is also keen to draw on best practice, including in other countries. It wants to see digitised health checks and fit note conversations being ‘optimised’ with a broader range of professionals being able to sign sick notes, including pharmacists. Also mentioned in the consultation are services for specific common health issues, including muscular skeletal pathways and a placement scheme for those suffering from severe mental health issues.

The paper is aimed both at retaining workers and getting those who have dropped out back to work, through specific training of Job Centre Plus coaches and Universal Support, a supported employment programme for disabled people and people with health conditions and additional barriers to employment which will match participants with open market jobs and funding support and training.

The paper also mentions the locally-led integrated WorkWell Partnership programme announced in the Budget for those with health or disability issues who want to get back to work. There is a focus on SMEs, who traditionally struggle to provide Occupational Health, with funding having been announced for innovation projects involving Occupational Health for SMEs and the self employed. The Government is also looking to expand the Occupational Health SME Subsidy Pilot in England which supports SMEs with the cost of purchasing occupational health services.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, said: “Healthy businesses need healthy workers – employers will benefit from higher retention rates, more productive workers, and fewer work days lost due to sickness. Improving health in the workplace is a vital piece of the puzzle in our drive to increase employment.”

The Government has also published a separate consultation looking at options to increase investment in Occupational Health services by UK-wide employers through the tax system. The Government says it wants to explore the case for providing additional tax relief to businesses on their Occupational Health costs. In particular, the consultation asks respondents for their experiences of providing Occupational Health, including what services they provide and any barriers they experience. It also asks for evidence on the effectiveness of existing tax incentives and asks respondents for their views on the merits of expanding the existing Benefit-in-Kind relief, and thoughts on any alternative tax incentives.

Tax reliefs on Benefits-in-Kind are already available for certain occupational health services. The consultation will test if expanding these reliefs or introducing new ones to cover, for instance, eye checks and basic check-ups, could be an effective lever to achieve greater Occupational Health provision, as well as thoughts on any alternative tax incentives.

According to the Government,  just under half of workers have access to Occupational Health services despite long-term sickness being the main reason people of working-age give for being economically inactive. Over 90% of large employers offer Occupational Health support, compared to under a fifth of small ones.

*The Occupational Health consultation will run until 23:59 on Thursday 12th October 2023. To take part click here.

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