Most GPs and employers unaware of Fit for Work

More than 60 per cent of GPs and over 75 per cent of employers are unaware of the new Fit for Work service, raising questions about the effectiveness of the policy.

Research carried out amongst more than 1,000 GPs on behalf of Cigna found 61 per cent are not aware of the service, and of those who are, over a third have not yet made their minds up about whether they will use.

Of the GPs who are aware but don’t plan to use the service, the main reason is that they believe it is the employer’s responsibility to address the problem of workplace absence. A majority of GPs – 53 per cent – are yet to be convinced of the impact this will have in reducing sickness absence levels in the UK. Overall only 21 per cent think the service will be effective in reducing sickness absence.

Three quarters of 680 employers polled by Cigna are also unaware of the service – with 76 per cent not knowing what it is. Only 22 per cent of small businesses – identified by the DWP as a key area for the service – are familiar with it. But of all those who are already aware of the service, 49 per cent said they are likely to use it.

Awareness of the tax free incentive scheme is even lower, with only 14 per cent of employers having any knowledge of this, with small employers again representing the lowest proportion. But over 40 per cent said their organisation would be more likely to fund medical treatments for absent employees as a result of this new tax relief scheme, rising to 70 per cent of employers who were already aware of the tax relief.

The Department of Work and Pensions’ new Fit for Work occupational health service will offer UK GPs, employers and employees access to free occupational health information and assessments. GPs are being asked to refer patients who have been – or are likely to be – off work for four weeks or longer for assessment by an occupational health adviser. 

The Government has also introduced tax relief on employer-funded medical treatments designed to get absent employees back to work sooner.

After a stalled December 2014 launch, the service is expected to be fully operational around the UK by late 2015.

Employers have a £500 tax exemption a year per employee for spending on medical treatments recommended by Fit for Work, or an OH service arranged through them.

Cigna UKHB Managing Director Phil Austin commented, “The DWP initiatives to help employers with the rising costs of sickness absence are definitely a positive step. However, the Cigna research points to a need for more widespread communication on the Fit for Work scheme. At the same time, employers and GPs need better understanding of each other’s roles in managing sickness absence.”    

“The DWP is aiming for the Fit for Work service to be fully operational across the UK by late 2015. It relies on GPs referring individuals to the service if they are going to be off work for four weeks or more.  However, the Cigna research shows not only are the majority of GPs unaware of the service, those that are aware don’t always think it is their role to make the referrals. Meanwhile, employer awareness of the scheme is lowest amongst small businesses. This is particularly concerning as they have been identified as having the greatest need for the support available through the Fit for Work scheme.”