Please find below their introduction to the topic and questions they’d like to pose during the talk.
It is a recognised fact that the longer a person is detached from the workplace the less chance they have of returning to work. After only 4 weeks of sick leave your likelihood of returning to work starts decreasing.
Each year 330,000 people move from being at work to claiming Employment and Support Allowance. What is most remarkable is that 140,000 of those individuals don’t take any sick leave before leaving work to claim ESA. Yesterday they were at the office, factory, call centre, depot; today they are claiming benefits!
Why is this the case? Are 140,000 paid workers experiencing sudden acute onset of a health condition which is so catastrophic that they need to leave a job that they could do yesterday? Perhaps they have health conditions which they have been trying to manage without letting it impact on their work until one day they simply can’t go on? Or perhaps they are somewhere in between these two groups but have inadequate terms and conditions, are unsure of their rights or do not know how to negotiate changes to their role with their employer?
Carol Black’s Sickness Absence Review reveals that despite the presence of occupational health services for employees of large organisations and despite the development of Fit for Work services for those working for SMEs there are still many workers who do not receive adequate help to manage their health condition at work and end up leaving their jobs.
GPs have responsibility for signing Fit Notes. They can influence an employee’s return to work by recommending that they may be fit for work if measures are taken by the employer to support the individual. However 85% of Fit Notes are signed as ‘unfit for work’. As an OT clinician working in a secondary care mental health team I have been frustrated by the kind of referrals received by the team stating that ‘I have stabilised this man but I can’t seem to get him back to work’ or ‘this lady requires psychology due to an adjustment reaction following a stroke which has resulted in her having to leave her job’. As an occupational therapist I am confident that if I had had the opportunity to assess that man or lady before they took sick leave or soon after they were signed off work I could have had a significant impact on the management of their health and functioning at work (and probably at home too!) and on their length of stay in health care services.
OTs as well as other AHPs now have the opportunity, via the AHP Advisory Fitness to Work Report, to inform our GP colleagues as they sign Fit Notes. I hope GPs realise what a valuable support this will be to them. My concern however is that they do not have access to us occupational therapists because we are mostly working in secondary care services, our referral routes are indirect and our waiting lists are long.
What I am keen to explore is
- As occupational therapists are we making the best use of our core skills in order to reduce the negative impact of ill health and disability on people’s ability to function at work?
- How do we upstream our services to make them accessible to primary care services and to patients who need work retention support?
- Are there already innovative examples of good practice out there?