DWP announce new Occupational Health Taskforce in desperate bid to reduce NHS waiting lists

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has announced a new Occupational Health Taskforce, led by Dame Carol Black, to tackle in-work sickness and stop people falling out of the workforce.

Related topics:  Occupational Health,  Employee Benefits
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
21st February 2024
Occupational Health
"The work of Dame Carol Black and her expert taskforce will be crucial as we drive down absenteeism, which we know is holding back business."
- Jo Churchill MP, Minister for Employment

According to the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), only 28% of employers in the UK provide any form of occupational health for employees with long-term health conditions, with major corporations (89%) nearly three times more likely to provide support than SMEs (28%).

This aligns with concerns raised by industry leaders in the group risk sector, who've called for 2024 to be the year of forward-thinking, ‘prevention over claim’ and specialist support in the workplace. “The support needed for those with long-term health conditions is wide and varied, and employers would do well to look at the comprehensive support that can be embedded within other employee benefits,” said Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD).

READ MORE: 2024 needs to be the year of forward-thinking, ‘prevention over claim’ and specialist support

Consequently, the DWP has announced a new Occupational Health Taskforce (led by Dame Carol Black) to produce a voluntary occupational health framework, which will include setting out minimum levels of occupational health to reduce absenteeism in the UK workforce as well as support employees returning to work after a period of ill-health. This framework – expected this Summer – will form part of the Government’s drive to reduce inactivity levels and NHS waiting lists.

The Occupational Health Taskforce will meet for the first time today with the aim of increasing access and uptake of occupational health by empowering employers to play an active role in improving employee health, removing barriers by focusing on SMEs with restricted finances, and complementing pre-existing health & disability workplace initiatives (including when occupational health is required in law).

This taskforce comes as the Government’s £64mn pilot of a new WorkWell service gets underway, which will help 60k people with long-term health conditions ‘stay and succeed’ in the workplace through integrated employment & health support.

Dame Carol Black, Tsar of the Occupational Health Taskforce, said it’s a privilege to chair the new taskforce which will review occupational health services available to employees across businesses of all shapes and sizes. “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,” she explained.

“Millions of working days are lost each year through sickness […] the work of Dame Carol Black and her expert taskforce will be crucial as we drive down absenteeism, which we know is holding back business, and really focus on making occupational health support available to all,” agreed Jo Churchill MP, Minister for Employment.

Responding to this announcement, Brett Hill, Head of Health & Protection at Broadstone, hopes this new effort will “help tackle the alarming rise of in-work sickness and economic inactivity due to ill-health […] occupational health has a crucial role to play but is only one part of this picture.”

However, Brett remains concerned about P11d tax; “when employers choose to support their employees with employer-funded healthcare benefits, their employees are penalised through the tax system in the form of P11d tax.”

“At a time when many employees are still struggling with cost-of-living pressures, this acts as a disincentive and prevents some employees from taking up benefits that might otherwise improve their health and productivity, support the health of the nation, and ease the strain on the NHS,” he warned.

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