Supporting detail:

Co-ordinating the Health, Work and Wellbeing initiative

Find out about Fit for Work that will help people with a health condition stay in or return to work.

Health, Work and Wellbeing is a cross-government initiative that aims to:

  • improve the general health and wellbeing of the working-age population
  • support more people with health conditions to stay in work or enter employment

We work with employers, trades unions and healthcare professionals to:

  • create healthier workplaces
  • improve occupational health services and rehabilitation support
  • increase employment opportunities for people who are not in work due to ill health or disability

We do this by:

  • educating individuals and raising awareness
  • improving the range and capacity of occupational health services
  • providing practical and effective support for employers, especially small businesses
  • encouraging public sector organisations to lead by example on health at work

This work brings benefits to:

  • individuals, through better health
  • employers, through improved productivity and reduced sickness absence
  • government, through fewer people claiming sickness benefits and reduced health spending

Our partners

The Health, Work and Wellbeing initiative is supported by 6 government partners:

The initiative has resulted in a number of measures, including those below. More information is available about how it began in 2005 and in the National Archives.

Fit for Work

We have introduced Fit for Work to help employees stay in or return to work. It is free and provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs.

There are two elements to Fit for Work:

  • free, expert and impartial work-related health advice through a website and telephone line
  • referral to an occupational health professional for employees who have been off sick or who are likely to be off sick for 4 weeks or more

The advice element is available now. For more information visit:

There will be a phased roll out of the referral service taking place over a period of months – we will announce details in early 2015. The Fit for Work occupational health professional will identify obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work. They will produce a ‘return to work plan’ tailored to the employee’s needs. GPs will normally refer people to Fit for Work. Employers may also refer an employee if, after 4 weeks absence, they have not been referred by their GP.

We have published guidance for employees, employers and GPs on using Fit for Work. We will update this guidance regularly as referrals begin to be accepted for occupational health assessments, to reflect the roll out across Great Britain.

Reducing the number of days lost to sickness absence

On 17 February 2011 the government set up a review of the sickness absence system to help reduce the 140 million days lost to sickness absence every year. The review was jointly chaired by David Frost, former Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, and Dame Carol Black, then National Director for Health and Work.

The review considered how the current sickness absence system could be changed to help people stay in work, reduce costs and contribute to economic growth and whether these costs are appropriately shared between the state, individuals and employers.

We published the report Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence on 21 November 2011.

The review presents an important analysis of the:

  • sickness absence system in the UK
  • impact of sickness absence on employers, the state and individuals
  • factors which cause and prolong sickness absence and which, in too many cases, mean that employees move out of work entirely and on to benefits
  • roles that healthcare professionals, employers and government services play

The government published its response to the sickness absence review’s recommendations on 17 January 2013. The response outlines a strategy to support the health and wellbeing of the working age population and examines:

  • setting up a health and work assessment and advisory service
  • improving sickness absence management
  • supporting healthcare professionals
  • reforming the benefits system

Fit note (statement of fitness for work)

The fit note replaced the old ‘sick note’ in 2010. The fit note allows doctors to provide advice to their patient about the effects of their health condition and how they might be able to return to work while they recover. The fit note also helps employers to support their employees back to work as soon as possible, so that they retain skills that are critical to business success.

Occupational health advice services for small businesses and GPs

Small and medium sized businesses face particular challenges when accessing occupational health advice. The occupational health advice services operate in England, Scotland and Wales and are funded by DWP.

We published the Occupational Health Advice Lines evaluation: final report (RR793) on 29 February 2012.

Healthy Working UK

Healthy Working UK provides information for GPs and other primary healthcare professionals. It includes news, training and decision aids to support the management of health and work, including the fit note. The website was developed by Royal College of General Practitioners, the Society of Occupational Medicine and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, with support from DWP.

Workplace wellbeing tool

The Workplace wellbeing tool allows employers to work out the costs of poor health and wellbeing to their business. It helps them build a business case for action to reduce those costs and improve the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Public Health Responsibility Deal

Organisations that have volunteered to join the Public Health Responsibility Deal are taking action to improve public health. They do this through their responsibilities as employers, as well as through their commercial actions and community activities.

Employer’s charter

The employer’s charter aims to help employers understand exactly what they can and can’t do when managing staff. It covers assessments of fitness to work and action employers can take in connection with sickness absence.

Employing disabled people and people with health conditions: guidance for employers

We have published guidance to help employers to become more confident when attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people, including links to further resources.

Case studies

We publish case studies of Health, Work and Wellbeing initiatives to help others understand and follow best practice.

Evidence, research and policy papers

Find out how the initiative started and read our evidence, research and policy papers – including Working for a healthier tomorrow, Carol Black’s 2008 review of the health of Britain’s working age population.

Contact the Health, Work and Wellbeing team

Contact the Health, Work and Wellbeing team if you have any questions about the initiative or a case study they may want to consider.