Early interventions: a reminder

As we covered in this article last year, the Government has recently taken the rather unexpected decision to cease the assessments services provided by the Fit for Work scheme.  This change comes into force in England and Wales from the 31st March 2018, and 31st May 2018 in Scotland.  So where does that leave employers, and what actions should they be taking as a result of this decision?

To answer this question it will probably firstly be useful and instructive to revisit the original aims of the Fit for Work offering.  The background to this stretches way back into the early years of this decade, when a review* of sickness absence was published.  This document provided detailed insights into the subject of long-term sickness absence in the UK, and the important opening paragraphs of that report are shown below:

“Sickness absence from work is often unavoidable, but when unduly prolonged it is wasteful and damaging – to individuals and their families, employers and our wider society.

The aims of our Review were to minimise the loss of work resulting from ill health and to find ways of reducing the burdens and costs.”

And indeed the report went on to look at various options to achieve just that. One of the key components recommended was a free-to-use early assessment service, which was eventually launched as the Fit for Work service in 2015.

The aims of the service were simple.  An early assessment of an illness or injury can often result in a course of corrective actions or treatments to be taken to avoid the condition becoming a long-term one.  Such an outcome is good for the State (reduced costs of state benefits), the employer (reduced absence and loss of productivity) and, of course, the employee and their family (better health and wellbeing). 

So the Fit for Work offering was a welcome addition to the services available to employers, and many organisations have included referrals to this service within their core absence procedures and communications since its launch. It follows that the decision to cease operating this service presents such employers with some unexpected challenges.

So what now?

As a minimum employers will have to ensure that any references to Fit for Work referrals are removed from all company procedures and communications. Yet many will want to go further, and will be looking to replace this offering with an alternative intervention service to achieve the same aims of early assessments, diagnoses, and a return to work plan. One such option to achieve the above aims is readily available to many employers through their Group Income Protection plans. 

Group Income Protection (GIP) schemes deliver pretty much what it says on the can.  The schemes provide a really important benefit in the continuation of a percentage of an employee’s salary in the event of a qualifying long-term illness or injury.  When communicated well this is a very welcome benefit for employees, whilst also freeing the employer of any concerns about funding long-term salary payments for an absent employee. 

Yet the benefits go further than purely a financial payment.  For similar reasons to that which led to the start of the Fit for Work service, the GIP scheme insurer is often also willing to fund free assessments and interventions to reduce the duration and costs of the absence. The success of such an approach has been captured by insurer Canada Life, who have recently provided the following** statistics. 

Use of the Early Intervention Service (EIS):

  • 93% of EIS referrals resolved before claim payment is due to begin
  • Absence duration for mental health conditions is almost 2 years longer when EIS has not been used

These findings speak for themselves, and demonstrate the real value to all parties of early interventions, and that viable alternatives to the Fit for Work offering are still available to employers.

So employers with GIP coverage for their employees will probably want to look again at embedding this service within their policies, procedures, and communications. Whilst those organisations without access to Group Income Protection cover may want to consider introducing this important offering to benefit both employee and employer alike.  For more information on the many benefits of Group Income Protection plans please speak to one of our local experts near you.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Jelf


 *Health at Work (November 2011)
 ** Canada Life email (26/02/18)