April 19, 2024

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New Occupational Health Taskforce to tackle in-work sickness and drive down inactivity

5 min read
  • Dame Carol Black, an experienced health policy advisor, will lead a new Taskforce to improve employer awareness of the benefits of Occupational Health in the workplace.
  • Only 45% of workers in Britain currently have access to some form of Occupational Health service.
  • The Taskforce is part of the government’s drive to tackle in-work sicknesses and help grow the economy.

Businesses will be urged to tackle in-work sickness and stop people falling out the workforce, following the appointment of Dame Carol Black as the Government’s new Occupational Health Tsar.

Dame Carol, who has decades of experience in medicine and policy advisory while having chaired multiple government reviews, will head up a Taskforce that will produce a voluntary occupational health framework for businesses – which will include setting out minimum levels of occupational health needed to stop sickness-related job losses, and help businesses better support those returning to work after a period of ill-health.

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. 

This much needed framework – expected this Summer – will form part of the Government’s drive to reduce inactivity levels and waiting list times.

Minister for Employment, Jo Churchill MP, added:

Millions of working days are lost each year through sickness. We are helping businesses tackle this challenge head on so we can help boost productivity and grow our economy. 

The work of Dame Carol and her expert Taskforce will be crucial as we drive down absenteeism, which we know is holding back British businesses and really focus on making occupational health support available to all. 

Our £2.5bn Back to Work Plan will also help one million people, including those with long-term health conditions and disabilities, find work and reap the benefits it has to offer.

Only 45% of workers in Britain have access to some form of occupational health, and with an estimated 1.8 million workers reporting work-related ill health in 2022/23, the government is acting to tackle long-term sickness to help people stay and succeed in work.

The Taskforce comes as the Government gets a £64 million pilot of a new WorkWell service underway, which will help 60,000 people with health conditions stay and succeed in work through integrated employment and health support.

The Taskforce will meet for the first time today aiming to increase access and uptake of occupational health through:

  • Increasing information and visibility for employers on occupational health and the benefits of quality occupational health provision in retaining employees in the workplace.
  • Empowering employers to play an active role in improving employee health. 
  • Removing barriers by focusing on SMEs with restricted finances and by ensuring that the Framework is applicable across sectors. 
  • Complementing other existing health and disability workplace initiatives, including where occupational health is required in law. 

Dame Carol Black, Tsar of the Occupational Health Taskforce, said:

It is a privilege to Chair the new Taskforce which will review occupational health services available to employees across businesses of all shapes and sizes and then create a framework to support better employee health and wellbeing. We will encourage employers to embrace practices that prevent or reduce ill-health related job loss.

We know the impact high sickness absence and presenteeism has on businesses and their productivity, which is why I am so pleased to work with other members of the Taskforce to ensure occupational health support is in place for employees and employers alike.

Minister for Health and Social Care, Helen Whately MP, added:

A healthy economy is only possible with a healthy workforce. 

We want more people to be able to benefit from good occupational health, especially employees in small businesses, because we know it works. 

This Taskforce will set us on the path towards a healthier workforce, in turn boosting productivity and economic growth. 

The UK Government recently launched its Occupational Health Innovation Fund which has provided £1 million in funding to 10 projects to develop innovative new models of Occupational Health, using technology to improve the capacity and capability of providers and increase access for SMEs.

A show and tell event demonstrating the innovative tools and resources will be held at the Department for Health and Social Care today. It will be attended by the Minister for Employment, Jo Churchill, and Minister for Health and Social Care, Helen Whately.

Additional Information

  • Dame Carol Black is currently Chair of the British Library, the Centre for Ageing Better, and Think Ahead, the Government’s fast-stream training programme for Mental Health Social Workers. She co-chairs NHS England/Improvement’s Expert Advisory Group on Employee Health and Wellbeing. In 2022 she was appointed Independent Adviser to the Government on combatting misuse of drugs. Dame Carol has completed four independent reviews for the UK Government: of the health of the working-age population in 2008 as National Director for Health and Work; of sickness absence in Britain in 2011 as co-chair; of employment outcomes of addiction to drugs or alcohol, or obesity, in 2016; and on illicit drugs, demand, supply and treatment.
  • In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced a wide-reaching £2billion package to support disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay and succeed in work. This included two OH consultations. One was led by HMT/HMRC: Tax Incentives for Occupational Health, and the other by us Occupational Health: Working Better, which sought views on ways of increasing employer uptake of occupational health.
  • At Autumn Statement 2023, the Occupational Health: Working Better consultation response took account of stakeholder feedback and outlined plans to imminently establish an Expert Group Task and Finish to support the development of a new occupational health Voluntary Minimum Framework.
  • Further guidance will be published on GOV.UK in due course as the group begins its work to transform occupational health provision.
  • Employee access to Occupational Health: (Employee research Phase 1 and 2 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk))
  • Employer provision of Occupational Health: Department for Work and Pensions Employer Survey 2022 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  • Sickness absence stats: Sickness absence in the UK labour market – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
  • HSE work-related ill-health stats are from here: Statistics – About HSE statistics

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