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Reducing sickness absence – how does the government’s new service support those with long term conditions?

Jenny Gulliford

11 April 2013

The Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service, based on the Fit for Work Service Pilots,  was back in the news today (11 April)  with headlines announcing the government’s aim to reduce sickness absence and prevent people from dropping out of the labour market and onto benefits. Whilst the proposed service has potential to help many people back into employment, The Work Foundation has been campaigning to ensure that people with long term or chronic conditions aren’t forgotten when the service comes into practice in 2014. Jenny Gulliford, co-author of the recently published ‘Returning to Work: Cancer and the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service’ outlines her recommendations for government:


  • Employment is an important part of the recovery process for many people with long term or chronic conditions, and one that is too often ignored. Whilst the majority of people using the service will be referred after four weeks of sickness absence this will not be suitable for this group. Referral routes to the service should therefore be clearly signposted, and be considered a routine part of the recovery process.

  • The assessment service must be holistic, taking into account the whole person and their individual needs, rather than only their illness or disability. In many cases returning to work after a period of absence is about more than just addressing their health. Other issues such as financial problems, family responsibilities, the relationship between the individual and their line manager or supervisor, the emotional demands of their job, may all play a part. The service must avoid giving over-generalised advice.

  • Case management and long term follow up must be available for those with more complex, severe or long term conditions. Support to help people remain in the workplace will be vital to insure that a return to work isn’t quickly followed by another period of sickness absence.

  • The government must ensure that all key stakeholders are involved in the service, including  GPs, employers, relevant healthcare professionals and occupational health services.

For a fuller analysis of the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service’s potential, and for more background on these recommendations, please read  ‘Returning to Work: Cancer and the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service’ by Dr Tyna Taskila, Dr Stephen Bevan and Jenny Gulliford.