‘Hands on’ physiotherapy is key to making ‘fit for work’ service a success, says CSP chief executive

Long-term sick leave could be prevented by a new service that will give employees faster access to health advice and support, according to a review published last week by the Department for Work and Pensions in England.

The review, titled Fitness for work: the Government response to ‘Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence’ makes a number of recommendations which the government in England has accepted, along with the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales.

These include the introduction of an Independent Assessment Service (IAS) that will provide employers, GPs and patients with advice about how individuals on sick leave can be supported to return to work.

The UK government anticipates that this state-funded service will require up to 1,300 healthcare professionals, who will provide physiotherapy and other interventions.

Sue Browning, the CSP’s deputy chief executive, said: ‘This is a great opportunity for physiotherapists, The CSP has been campaigning hard for early access to physiotherapy for people who are on sick leave, so we are delighted that the government has listened to the evidence and responded with these plans.’

But the timescale was ‘tight’ as the government intends to launch the service next year, she noted. Physiotherapists should be involved in developing the service specification.

‘We need to influence the quality of the service provided and make sure it is set at the right standard, so it makes a real difference for patients.’

It is expected that that GPs will refer patients to the IAS when they have been off work for around four weeks. The service will assess patients by telephone and, when required, face-to-face assessments will be arranged.

Phil Gray, the CSP’s chief executive, described the measures as a ‘big step in the right direction’. ‘But it’s important that the government provides the resources and funding to ensure rapid access to “hands-on” physiotherapy treatment is also available where necessary.

‘Advice alone isn’t always enough to resolve health problems that are keeping people off work.’

To read the report, visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/health-at-work-gov-response.pdf

Robert Millett

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