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The Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud, in a DWP press release, asserts that a new Health and Work Service will improve economic productivity and get people back to work faster. It will enable employees, GPs and employers to manage sickness absence better.

This system will first be introduced in Wales, the Midlands and the North; the Scottish government declined to privatise and will keep the assessment programme as a public service.

David Hencke reports that Lord Freud has awarded this contract to Health Management Ltd, subsidiary of US multinational company, Maximus. Doctors will no longer decide when patients should return to work after 4 weeks’ sickness absence.

And it will save money . . .

atos costs

The DWP press release predicted that the new Health and Work Service will cut sick pay costs to business by £80 million to £165 million a year. Economic output will be increased by up to £900 million a year.

Employees on sick leave will be helped to return to work by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, more than 4 weeks’ sickness absence. A case manager will phone to support each employee through the service’s assessment process to ensure their level of need is correctly identified along with appropriate steps to take to get them back to work. A return to work plan will be shared with their employer and GP.

Hencke’s comment

Effectively it will mean you will get a telephone consultation from a call centre and be emailed when you should return to work. If don’t co-operate you will lose your benefit.

Remembering how disabled people were forced to find work or lose benefits by the French company, ATOS, Mr Hencke suspects that that this new system could push the sick back to work before they have recovered.

In 1986 Hencke was Westminster Correspondent covering both Whitehall and Westminster. He won three awards for investigations – the most serious being into the ”cash for questions” scandal which led to the bankruptcy of Ian Greer Associates and reporting the secret undeclared £373,000 home loan given to Peter Mandelson by fellow Treasury minister, Geoffrey Robinson. After working for the Guardian, he moved to the new Fleet Street based Exaro News, a City financed website, covering Whitehall, politics, the City,media, local government and tax issues. He and Francis Beckett (co-authors of ‘The Blairs and Their Court’, are now researching a new book into the Blairs’ post 2007 careers.

His two articles on this subject, including an investigation of the working conditions of Maximus’ employees, are on his website.

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