WorkWell Scheme UK: 15 Areas Marked to Pilot £64 Million Employee Support Plan

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Photo Credits: Matthew Henry via Unsplash

The government has recently selected fifteen areas of England to pilot the new WorkWell Scheme from October this year. The pilot will aim to assist approximately 59,000 people to connect with their local support services.

Today, we explore more about the pilot, how the WorkWell Scheme will work in practice, and how it will operate alongside the new fit note reforms.

New Care Systems in Place to Support Early Intervention

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced the fifteen areas chosen to participate in the employee support WorkWell Scheme pilot. These include:

  1. Birmingham and Solihull
  2. The Black Country
  3. Bristol
  4. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  5. Cornwall
  6. Coventry and Warwickshire
  7. Surrey Heartlands
  8. Herefordshire and Worcestershire,
  9. Greater Manchester,
  10. Lancashire and South Cumbria, and
  11. Parts of North London, among others.

Each of the areas piloting the WorkWell Scheme will decide which types of employee support to offer participants, depending on the needs of the local community. Typically, the process will involve an initial meeting with a Work and Health Coach to identify their medical and social barriers to work and establish a plan for overcoming these.

Such plans may include

  1. Broaching the subject of health needs with employers,
  2. Requesting and implementing adjustments in the workplace (such as flexible working and/or assistive technologies), and
  3. Enabling access to local support services such as counselling, physiotherapy, and employment advice.

Mixed Reviews on The WorkWell Pilot

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor is optimistic about the WorkWell Scheme pilot, stating that: “it is fantastic that 15 [integrated care systems] can now start to get their WorkWell plans off the ground to provide more intensive, early-intervention support to their populations.”

On the other hand, Joanna Hurry, disability and employment consultant, is sceptical about the success of the WorkWell Scheme with respect to resolving long-term sickness. She has highlighted some of the initiative’s shortcomings, such as long-term medical treatment, education and training, and employment opportunities, as well as its failure to take into account the typically long waiting times for medical appointments.

Read: Sick Leave: Poor Mental Health Found to be
Leading Cause of Long-Term Absence at Work

She further adds, “The pilot is a start, but it is designed to be a series of short-term interventions. While the programme may show promise for some individuals, it is likely to have limited effectiveness for others.”

Can The WorkWell Scheme Tackle The Growing Unemployment Issue?

The WorkWell Scheme is a government initiative which aims to better align employment and health services in an attempt to help people, particularly those suffering from long-term sickness, to remain in or return to work.

The scheme is aimed at people who have a health condition or disability who want to work. It is a voluntary initiative, meaning that no one will be required to participate; but people will be able to self-refer, or be referred via their GP, employer, or community sector if they wish to receive this employee support.

According to the Health Foundation, unemployment has the potential to harm health in several ways. Work often helps to improve well-being, lowering the risk of depression, enhancing physical health, and improving self-confidence and financial independence. Currently, 2.8 million people are economically inactive in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. The WorkWell Scheme will combine a number of approaches in an effort to enable participants to find and/or remain in employment with personalised employee support.

Mel Stride, work and pensions secretary, is enthusiastic about the WorkWell Scheme, stating that: “too many today are falling out of work in a spiral of sickness that harms their finances, their prospects and ultimately their health, where with the right workplace adjustments and help, this needn’t be the case.” She further explains that the objectives of the WorkWell Scheme are to “stem the flow into economic inactivity, grow the economy, and change lives for the better.”

Read: WorkWell Scheme: What is it and Who is it For?

Will the WorkWell Scheme Affect Fit Note Systems?

Last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced government plans to reform the current fit note system in the UK. Whereas fit notes are currently issued by GPs, often on an ongoing basis with minimal discussion for employees with long-term sickness, this will be changing. Instead, this responsibility will be given to “specialist health and work professionals.”

These specialists will be required to objectively assess individuals’ ability to work, together with any employee support they might need. This decision comes after data published by the NHS showed that nearly 11 million fit notes were issued across the UK in 2023, with 94% of them stating that the patient was “not fit for work”. In response, the government has stated that it wants to “design a new system where each fit-note conversation focuses on what people can do with the right support in place, rather than what they can’t do.”

Read: Rishi Sunak Vows to End “Sick Note Culture”
To Prevent People From Using Benefits as a Lifestyle Choice

The government has confirmed that the fit note system reform will be integrated with the WorkWell Scheme to help struggling people get back into work through local support services. As part of this integration, some of the pilot areas will be “fit note trailblazers”. This means testing better methods for triaging, signposting, and providing better employee support for those seeking a fit note. The idea is an effort to prevent those with long-term health issues from leaving their employment.

Speaking about the two initiatives, Rishi Sunak said: “… we need to be more ambitious about helping people back to work and more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life.”

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