The Department for Work and Pensions has plans to implement new occupational health policy to try and get more people back to work after long-term illness.
Speaking at the Labour Party Conference yesterday, David Blunkett MP, work and pensions secretary, said he has created the role of national occupational health director to drive policy and help individuals get back to work in the event of an accident.
More specifically, Blunkett said while there has been a 10% reduction in the number of accidents at work since 1997, but a new role was needed which gives the director similar powers to the Chief Medical Officer to ensure people are given the support they need to return to work.
“We have to ensure there is greater responsibility taken by employers in helping people to stay in work when recovering from accidents at work, and when returning, ensuring they have the support to do so. The threat from industrial injuries needs to be protected.
According to Blunkett, the new role is a joint initiative by the DWP and the Department for Health and the person responsible will oversee the “implementation of a new ‘Health, Work and Wellbeing Strategy’ to be published this autumn.“Patricia Hewitt and I are committed to work with the Health and Safety Commission, with business and the Trade Unions, to create a new occupational health programme for Britain,” Blunkett later said in a joint statement with the Department of Health.
This is a programme to prevent ill-health, to help rehabilitate those in ill-health, to reduce absence from work, and to avoid people relying on benefits out of work. The health and well being of people of working age is of great importance to our future.
“We want to match the historic work of the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health with public health reforms, so that we now focus on the work place and working age population. The new National Director will work with Ministers to build a strategy unmatched in Europe or the World,” continued Blunkett.
This follows earlier election pledges from the Labour Party suggesting the government was keen to shake up incapacity benefit and rehabilitation to work, as the DWP reported there are throught to be around 1.6 million people on incapacity benefit.
Employees who are members of income protection schemes as part of a benefits package and are off work for long periods of time are usually presented with access to a rehabilitation consultant to find out what has caused the illness and what impact it has had on the individual’s life, particularly as it can often be more than one illness which has contributed to that person being unable to work.
However, Andy Cook, protection product marketing manager at Standard Life, points out very few people are off work for long periods of time as many are keen to return as quickly.
Similarly, people are most likely to be off work as a result of ill health through stress or back complaints.
“The vast majority of people want to go back to work but they want to go back without feeling under pressure. They don’t want to feel forced to go back so it is necessary to ensure consultants have the necessary skills to help them return. That support could be in consulting or if it was an accident at work, in making sure the employer has taken steps to ensure it won’t happen again,” says Cook.
From the employer’s point of view too, there is nothing worse than a person going back to work when they are not ready. But very few people are off long-term, as boredom sets in and much of people’s social lives also revolve around work,” adds Cook.IFAonline
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