The responsibility of physicians and health professionals to support patients at work has been neglected in the UK since the 1980s, with the loss of many services, in contrast with North America. The UK situation has been changing since 2008, with the publication of the Healthcare professionals’ consensus statement, (opens PDF, 43.74KB) which commits to continue to educate the healthcare community, employers and people of working age about the benefits that work can provide and, as appropriate, to do all that it can to help people to enter, stay in or return to work.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR), or the term ‘return to work’ (RTW), which is sometimes preferred:
- enables people with physical, psychological, developmental, cognitive and emotional impairments or health conditions to overcome barriers to accessing, maintaining or returning to employment or other useful occupation
- encompasses job retention, a general term for the processes that enable an employee to remain at work with their same employer
- prepares individuals for work – either because they were disadvantaged during their formative years (eg with cerebral palsy), or because of job loss.
The value of rehabilitation in facilitating RTW following injury or illness, and of maintaining people with disabilities in work, is high on government agendas. There is government support across the UK for RTW programmes, in which RM specialists play an important role.
The role of the specialist in VR is to:
- optimise the health and abilities of potential disabled employees
- provide support and expert reports for the individual and their present or future employers, or the vocational service working on behalf of the individual
- promote knowledge of and access to specialist vocational services
- promote knowledge of and access to work-related benefits and services within job centres and social services
- facilitate participation in the world of work.
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