I would not be too concerned about the order everything appears in the programme for Government. A great deal of drafting and redrafting was done.
The recently agreed programme for a partnership Government provides for a range of actions that are designed to improve the quality of life for people with illness or disabilities. One of these actions is a proposal for the Departments of Health and Social Protection to work together to pursue a fit for work programme to support more people with an illness or disability to get back to work through early intervention. The fit for work proposal is based on the findings of a pan-European study, which examined the impact of musculoskeletal disorders, MSDs, on an individual’s ability to work. The key module of this study was progressed by the fit for work coalition. There are stakeholders led by Arthritis Ireland, the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICTU, IBEC and the Health and Safety Authority. They all contributed to the study.
Early interventions and developing return to work practices in the case of people with musculoskeletal incapacities is consistent with my Department’s approach to illness-disability income support, which aims to reduce the number of people progressing to chronic disability and long-term social welfare dependency. To this end, my Department issued, in 2015, a set of certification guidelines for GPs, which sets out defined periods of recovery for common medical conditions, including MSDs.
The certification guidelines build on the Renaissance project, which was an initiative of my Department back in 2003. This demonstrated that early intervention reduced the incidence of progression from acute simple low back pain to chronic disability in 64% of claimants.
Decisions have not been made as to how a fit for work programme might be delivered and specific proposals for such a programme will require further development and scoping out. There are no plans to assign responsibility for the implementation of the programme to another agency or private sector operator.
I assure the Deputy that any proposals will be in line with the wealth of evidence, which shows that generally employment is good for one’s mental health and physical well-being.