NICE helps combat long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work
An estimated 175 million working days are lost in Britain due to sickness absence each year, at a cost of almost £100 billion to the economy, including the health service - greater than the annual budget for the NHS.
Recent research shows that the longer someone is off sick the less likely they are to return to work. In fact, someone who has been off sick for 6 months or longer has an 80% chance of being off work for 5 years.
The chances of someone on incapacity benefit getting back into employment is even worse: those claiming for 12 months will, on average, continue to claim for 8 years. After 2 years they are more likely to die or retire than return to work.
Our new guidance, ‘Long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work', aims to help employers and employees work together to ensure that when someone is absent from work, the right support is available as soon as possible to ensure they can return as soon as they are able.
Launched in March, the guidance also recommends an integrated programme of services to help the 2.7 million or so people who are currently unemployed and claiming incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance (ESA).
“Many people who are absent from work through sickness and incapacity are capable of being helped back into work with the right support,” explains Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE.
“Being out of work can have a serious impact on your health, and the longer a person is off sick, the harder it is to return to work.”
This guidance, he adds, is about ensuring people get access to the right kind of support at an early stage. “We are recommending some very simple and straightforward measures that even the smallest employer can implement. These include keeping in regular, positive contact with the staff member when they are off sick, thereby ensuring that they don't feel isolated.”
The guidance urges employers to identify someone who is suitably trained and impartial to talk to an employee experiencing long-term sickness absence or recurring short- or long-term sickness absence. If necessary - and with the employee's agreement - a more detailed assessment should be undertaken by a relevant specialist (or specialists), possibly coordinated by a suitably trained case worker.
Employers should also coordinate and support any health, occupational or rehabilitation treatments and services agreed with the employee, including any return-to-work plan. The latter might involve a gradual return to full or partial duties, or a change of role, as well as workplace or work equipment modifications.
The Department for Work and Pensions, as well as other relevant organisations involved with people who are unemployed and claiming incapacity benefit or ESA, should commission and evaluate an integrated programme of support, it says. This could include interviews with trained advisers to discuss the help claimants need to enter or return to work (paid or unpaid).
Issued: 30 March 2009
This page was last updated: 11 May 2010