As people go back to their jobs after the Christmas break, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is calling for more support for those returning to work after a long-term sickness absence.

The annual costs to Britain of long-term ‘worklessness’ associated with genuine ill health is almost £100 billion, more than the annual National Health Service budget. As such, NICE has published a guidance aimed at “all those who have a role in managing long-term sickness absence and incapacity”.

The recommendations for employers, for example, include keeping in touch with employees who are off sick and allowing “properly-trained, impartial people” to liaise with staff while they are off. Bosses are also encouraged to involve specialists and consult employees about “developing a return-to-work plan, and supporting them fully in implementing the plan”.

Mike Kelly, public health excellence centre director at NICE, said “long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work is a massive issue”, resulting in the loss of around 175 million working days in Britain each year. Fiona Ford, a senior lecturer in general practice at the University of Central Lancashire, added that the guidance will help GPs to handle requests for sick notes appropriately “and support their patients back into work”.