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NICE calls for more support for employees returning after long-term illness

Today, on the first day back at work for many after the Christmas break, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is calling for more support to help those people returning to work after a long-term sickness absence.

At this time of year, many people are tempted to call in sick for a day or so, suffering from nothing more than the ‘January blues'. Butthe annual costs in Britain of long term sickness absence and worklessness associated with genuine ill health is almost £100 billion. NICE guidance published on managing these issues aims to complement existing initiatives, helping reduce the number of employees on long-term sickness absence, and encouraging going back 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 include ensuring the right policies are in place;keeping in touch with employees who are off sick; allowing properly-trained, impartial people to liaise with employees while they are off sick; involving specialists, if appropriate; consulting the employee about developing a return-to-work plan, and supporting them fully in implementing the plan.  

The guidance also recommends that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), as well as other organisations which commission services for those who are unemployed and claiming incapacity benefit, or employment and support allowance, develop an integrated programme, including interviews with trained advisers to discuss the help they need to enter or return to work (paid or unpaid). This recommendation relates to a style of programme similar to DWP's Pathways to Work, with the shared aim of increasing the number of incapacity benefit recipients returning to work.

Professor Mike Kelly, Public Health Excellence Centre Director, NICE said: "Long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work is a massive issue, and around 175 million working days are lost in Britain each year due to sickness absence; the associated cost of this is reaching £100 billion - more than the annual NHS budget.

"The guidance from NICE aims to help employers and employees work together to ensure that when someone is off work due to genuine illness, the right support is available as early as possible, so they can return to work as soon as they can.  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, and so ensuring that they don't feel isolated."