A SUPPORT service to help people facing long-term sickness absence to return to their jobs has been launched in Warrington.

The free, voluntary and confidential government support service, known as Fit for Work, will provide the services of occupational health professionals to employed people if they have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more due to illness or related issues.

All GPs in Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral are now able to refer their employed patients who have been off for a long period of time to the service, with their consent.

Patients will benefit from an in-depth consultation, followed by a personalised Return to Work Plan which will be tailored to their needs and support to get back to their job while employees can also speak to their GPs to request a referral to the service.

Dr Mike Bewick, deputy medical director of NHS England, said: “NHS England welcomes 'Fit for Work', as an opportunity to support people working in the England and Wales who currently have no access to expert occupational health advice.

“This service will help GPs provide holistic care to their patients, while reducing the pressure of ill health associated with managing people who become long term unemployed.”

Following the introduction of the service in Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral, GPs in other parts of England and Wales will join the scheme in the coming weeks.

Employers will also be able to refer their employees in the autumn once the gradual roll out for GPs has been completed.

Dr Lucy Goundry, Clinical Lead for the Fit for Work programme at Health Management Limited, which will deliver the new service, said: “GPs are under more pressure than ever to deliver complex services.

“In such an environment, being able to support patients with high quality occupational health advice that takes a holistic approach, will help patients.”

To find out more call 0800 032 6235 or visit fitforwork.org.