Occupational therapy is set to have a presence in GP surgeries, after the Royal College of Occupational Therapists successfully won a bid to secure funding.

Supported by the Challenge Fund, RCOT was one of 19 successful bids out of 900 applications, and will now see occupational therapy led vocational clinics based in GP surgeries. Funded by the joint Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions, Work and Health Unit, it will be piloted in Southampton and South Wales in partnership with University of Nottingham, Solent NHS Trust and Hywel Dda University Health Board.

The programmes will focus on helping people with mental health or musculoskeletal issues return to the workplace faster, employing self-management, rehab and employer liaison. Each service user will get a personalised Allied Health Professions Advisory Fitness for Work Report to relay to their GP and employer.

The initiative will challenge whether current GP advice on time off work can be improved after it was revealed that 93% of GP Fit notes – which offer general advice rather than targeted and patient-specific – advise patients are unable to work and one third are issued for five weeks or longer. Taking on a vocational position, these OT clinics will support a client focused plan to return to work quicker. Following the DWP’s 2017 Improving Lives, the Future of Work, Health and Disability policy paper, which will work to legislate for extension of fit note certification powers beyond GPs and push for employers to use the AHP Advisory Fitness for Work Report for Statutory Sick Pay purposes, results from the College’s scheme will be collated at its conclusion in February 2020 to determine whether it has offered an answer.

RCOT professional advisor Genevieve Smyth, who led the application process told the College: “Winning the Challenge Fund allows the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to put staff directly into GP surgeries to give return to work advice.

“This means we can show patients, GPs and employers how, with early help from occupational therapists, people can avoid falling out of work. This initiative provides early intervention in primary care for people with physical and mental health problems.

“Too many people don’t get the right advice at the right time, putting their continued employment and income at risk. This not only impacts on the individual but the whole family. Early intervention also offers a quick, easy and direct solution to the growing burden of Fit Notes for GPs. We are looking forward to working with partners to deliver this high profile and ambitious project that will position the profession for the 21st century.”

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