Health and work update at 4 March 2024

  1. National initiatives to promote health and work

 

Last Autumn the UK Government consulted on proposals aimed at increasing employers’ use of occupational health services[1], and by HM Treasury and HMRC to explore the role of tax incentives to boost occupational health provision by employers[2].  This could make a difference, for example if HMRC rules change such that employers might fund some assessment and treatment to enable a return to work, without the employee being liable for tax where this is currently seen as a benefit in kind.

The Government have now appointed a new Occupational Health Taskforce to improve in-work sickness and reduce numbers of people falling out of work due to ill health[3].  This group is led by Dame Carol Black, who has been advising Government on work and health over the last two decades, and comprises senior figures within Occupational Health, including Dr Steve Boorman CBE, who is Chair of the Council for Work and Health and also leading NHS England’s Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing Together strategy[4].

With an estimated 1.8 million workers reporting work-related ill health in 2022/23, successive governments have long been concerned about long-term sickness.  The Task Force met for the first-time last week.  It is expected that outputs of the task force will be reported over the coming months.

As can be seen from the Government’s press release on the Occupational Health Taskforce, only 45% of workers in Britain currently have access to some form of Occupational Health service, and just 28% of employers in Britain provide some form of occupational health, with large employers (89%) nearly three times more likely than Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) (28%) to do so.

  1. Pilot occupational health provision to small & medium sized enterprises

Trials are underway to help SMEs with the costs of workplace health assessments for their employees, offering eligible SMEs an 80% discount on workplace health assessments for all their employees.  A private sector workplace health provider would do this assessment.  Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS) is the industry standard for occupational health services in the UK, and on the SEQOHS website employers can find information on accredited providers[5].

  1. Carers’ leave

In our day-to-day work in occupational health, we speak with many employees who have caring responsibilities; sometime the “sandwich generation” with care for children and elderly parents. We have seen an impact of these responsibilities on some employees, and the need to balance these with work commitments.  Employment law changes from 6th April 2024 will include the right to unpaid carer’s leave; this would be for one week every 12 months[6].  The right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency continues, as set out in Government guidance[7].

Dr Robin Cordell

MBA FRCP FFOM

Consultant Occupational Physician

Deputy Chair, Council for Work and Health

4 March 2024

[1] Government consultation on widening access to occupational health services at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/occupational-health-working-better

[2] Government consultation aimed at employers to explore the role of tax incentives to boost occupational health provision by employers at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/joint-hmt-hmrc-consultation-on-tax-incentives-for-occupational-health

[3] New occupational health taskforce to tackle in-work sickness and drive down inactivity at: New Occupational Health Taskforce to tackle in-work sickness and drive down inactivity – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[4] NHS England growing occupational health and wellbeing together strategy at: https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/growingoccupationalhealth.asp

[5] SEQOHS at: https://www.seqohs.org/default.aspx

[6] Government guidance on carer’s leave from 6 Apr 2024 at: https://www.gov.uk/carers-leave

[7] Time off for family and dependants at: https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants