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New plan to get sick back into work
Workers will be referred for health assessments if they are sick for more than four weeks under a new scheme to be launched by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Under the Health and Work Service scheme, assessments will carried out by occupational specialists to draw up a plan and timetable to get the patient back to work quickly.
Employees will be referred by a GP or their employer but the assessments are not compulsory.
Up to 960,000 workers in Britain were on sick leave for more than a month each year between October 2010 and September 2013, according to new figures released by the DWP.
Employers face a yearly bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs, with individuals missing out on £4 billion a year in lost earnings.
The DWP believes the scheme, to be launched in England, Scotland and Wales, will save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.
The Work and Pensions minister Mike Penning said: "More than 130 million days a year are lost to sickness absence in Great Britain, which has a substantial impact on workers, employers and taxpayers.
"As part of the Government's long-term economic plan, we are taking action to getting people back into work.
"T his is a triple-win. It will mean more people with a job, reduced cost for business, and a more financially secure future for Britain."
The new Health and Work Service will be funded by abolishing a compensation scheme for businesses paying long-term sick pay to their employees.
Any financial loss to business from the ending of the statutory sick pay percentage threshold scheme is expected to be offset by a reduction in lost working days, earlier return to work and increased economic output created by the new scheme, according to the DWP.
Around 300,000 people a year fall out of work and into the welfare system because of health-related issues, according to figures.
It is the latest move in the Government's pledge to cut the country's welfare bill after introducing new disability assessments and cutting benefits.
As part of the assessment, employees will be given a plan including a timetable for returning to work, fitness for work advice and signposted to appropriate help.
An advice service on the internet and phone will also be available under the scheme.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the scheme has potential, but warned that employees should not be pressured to return to work too early.
"Anything that helps workers recover from accidents or illness more quickly is welcome, and this service has real potential," she said.
"But it will be wrong to exaggerate sickness levels in the UK, levels are at an historic low and we should be just as concerned with people working when they are too ill or infectious, especially when such things as zero-hours contracts mean that many get no sick pay."