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Government response to Sickness Absence Review welcomed but flawed

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The government has today published its response to Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence. Responding, Professor Stephen Bevan of The Work Foundation and the campaigning coalition, Fit For Work UK, said:

“We welcome the government’s response to the Sickness Absence Review, as the declining health of the UK’s ageing workforce is likely to be a threat to productivity and economic growth for at least the next thirty years. The Fit for Work Coalition has a special interest in the thousands of UK workers who have musculoskeletal health problems, which cost the economy at least £7 billion each year and cause at least £10 million lost working days each year.

“The proposal to introduce a health and work assessment advisory service to support workers, GPs and employers after the fourth week of sickness absence is especially welcome. Our research shows that early intervention is the best way of helping people to stay in, or return to work. However, we are disappointed that the response fails to align incentives in the healthcare and welfare systems. Specifically, GPs in the new Clinical Commissioning Group (CCGs) are not being incentivised to consider work as a clinical outcome.

“Also, employment is not included in the Commissioning Outcomes Framework (COF), which will guide the way they treat and refer their patients. Up to 30 per cent of GP consultations relate to musculoskeletal conditions. We are concerned that if GPs have no incentive to consider how staying in work can benefit their patients, the aspiration of the government to reduce sickness absence and increase productivity may be at risk.”


Notes to editors

1. Professor Stephen Bevan and senior researcher, Ksenia Zheltoukhova are available for interviews, briefings and written comment.

2. Fit for Work UK is a campaigning coalition established in 2011 with the aim to shift the treatment and care of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from being disabling conditions to manageable conditions.

3. Taking the strain: The impact of musculoskeletal disorders on work and home life, published in December 2012 by Fit For Work UK, is available for download

4. The international Fit for Work Patient Survey 2012 is available at

5. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.

6. Fit for Work Europe is a unique multi-stakeholder coalition that strives to better align the work and health agendas in the EU and to shift the perception of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from being disabling conditions to manageable conditions, ensuring that more European citizens stay or return to work, while helping to improve the sustainability of Europe’s health and welfare systems. Fit for Work is a partnership of organisations and individuals, and enjoys the patronage of The Work Foundation, the UN’s Bone and Joint Decade, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and RAND Europe. The Fit for Work Europe Coalition is supported by an ongoing grant from Abbott – a founding partner – and a supporting grant from GE Healthcare.

Media enquiries:

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Taking the strain: Measuring the impact of musculoskeletal disorders

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Earlier this year the Office of National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) remain the single most important cause of absence from work among UK workers. Looking at the human stories behind these statistics is very important and our new Fit for Work report, ‘Taking the strain: the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on work and home life‘, draws on a survey of 809 people living with MSDs in the UK. It finds them eager to work, but largely unsupported by public services.

Representing the government at the report’s launch was James Wolfe from the Department for Work and Pensions, alongside three members of the Fit for Work UK coalition: Phil Gray, from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy; Clare Jacklin, from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society; and Dr John Chisholm, from the Royal College of General Practitioners.

With contributions from an engaged and expert audience, we debated the problem of people with MSDs dropping out of the workforce prematurely, and considered what government could do to stem this loss. In these tough economic times and with restrained public spending, ensuring public services help keep people in work was felt to be common sense. Many agreed the NHS needed to be further incentivised to support return to work, for example by allowing NICE to consider work outcomes and incentivising commissioners to prioritise job retention and return to work through the new Commissioning Outcomes Framework.

Meanwhile, many in the audience regretted the delay in the government’s response to Dame Carol Black and David Frost’s Sickness Absence Review. There were hopes this would soon be addressed, and that a positive announcement on an Independent Assessment Service, as recommended by the review, would be forthcoming. The mood of stakeholders at the launch was one of determination, but also of frustration. There is now a huge body of evidence on cost-effective interventions that can help people with long-term conditions to retain their jobs and be productive at work. All that seems to be missing is the political will to coordinate action across government and to effect change. This is what the Fit for Work UK coalition will be tackling in the coming months, so watch this space!

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