LANCASHIRE and South Cumbria is one of 15 areas of England chosen to pilot a £64million government plan to help the long-term sick back to work.

The new programme announced today aims to deliver joined-up work and health support.

The ‘WorkWell’ pilots aim to provide tailored help for people in their local area so they can stay and progress in jobs.

The scheme is part of the government's drive to reform welfare benefits to tackle inactivity by integrating the 'fit note' process into the benefits system.

Last month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to trial stripping GPs of their power to sign people off work as he attacked the UK's 'sick note culture' in a speech about welfare.

Instead he wants specialist work and health professionals to issue the 'fit notes' as part of a broader aim to make them harder to obtain.

But under the pilot schemes announced today it will be initially strictly voluntary for those off work long-term to sign up.

The pilots will form part of the consultation exercise on whether the controversial proposals will work nationwide and in the long term.

The Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board area is one of 15 out of the 42 across England to take part in the pilot and in 2023 saw 455,436 fit notes issued across its footprint.

Data recently published by the NHS shows almost 11 million fit notes were issued across England last year with 94 per cent signed 'not fit for work'.

A large proportion of these were repeats issued without any advice.

The WorkWell pilots – launched by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Health and Social Care – will connect 59,000 people from October to local support services including physiotherapy and counselling.

They aim to provide a single, joined-up assessment and gateway into both employment support and health services locally to help people manage their conditions and to identify workplace adjustments or support that would enable them to stay in work or return sooner.

Participants do not need to be claiming any government benefits and will receive personalised support from a 'Work and Health Coach'.

Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride said: “Too many today are falling out of work in a spiral of sickness that harms their finances, their prospects and ultimately their health, where with the right workplace adjustments and help, this needn’t be the case.

“And so we have designed WorkWell, a groundbreaking new service, that will for the first time integrate health and work advice at the local level, as part of our plan to stem the flow into economic inactivity, grow the economy, and change lives for the better.”