The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently issued guidance on managing long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work. It is estimated that in Britain the annual cost of sickness absence and worklessness associated with ill health is over £100bn. This new NICE guidance aims to complement existing initiatives and help to reduce the number of employees moving to long-term sickness absence and promote return to work.
The recommendations in the guidance are aimed at all those who have a role in managing long-term sickness absence and incapacity. This includes all employers, employees, managers, workplace representatives, trade unions and professionals, as well as the health service.
The recommendations for employers advise businesses to:
* Identify someone who is suitably trained and impartial to undertake initial enquiries with the relevant employees experiencing long-term sickness absence or recurring short-or long-term sickness absence, particularly those with musculoskeletal disorders or mental health problems.
* If indicated by the initial enquiries, employers should arrange for a more detailed assessment to be undertaken. Relevant specialist(s) should undertake the assessment in conjunction with the employee. The assessment could be coordinated by a suitably trained case worker(s).
* Coordinate and support the delivery of any planned health, occupational or rehabilitation interventions or services and any return-to-work plan developed following initial enquiries or the detailed assessment.
* Ensure employees are consulted and jointly agree all planned health, occupational or rehabilitation interventions or services and the return-to-work plan (including workplace or work equipment modifications).
Professor David Croisdale-Appleby, who helped draw up the guidelines said:
“It is in both parties’ interest that employees get back to work as soon as possible after illness. 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 report suggests that as part of this regular contact, employers should be unafraid to contact workers on long-term sick leave, and even to send them cards, although the guidance warns that patients' approval would be needed to reveal their medical details.
Dr Sian Williams, who also helped to draw up the guidelines, told The Telegraph that the "simple steps" could be successful, saying, "(They) could include a regular phone call and a get well card, or an email. Such a simple measure can have quite a large effect and at no extra cost."