By Daniel Hunter

People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to help them address their barriers to work — or face losing their benefits — in a 2 year pilot scheme announced on Monday.

Around 3,000 people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to work in the future will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit. The meetings will focus on helping claimants to move closer to being able to get a job.

The proposed pilot scheme will compare the help given by doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to 2 other pilot schemes which will offer enhanced support from Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers to see which is best at helping people off sickness benefits and into work.

"We need to ensure that people who are able to work get the encouragement they need to get a job, while those who are too sick to work get real support," Employment Minister Mark Hoban said.

"Many people on sickness benefits want to work, so it’s vitally important that we give them the right help to move into a job if they are able. The help we give people at the moment tends to focus on work-related skills, but doesn’t necessarily address health problems. But by giving people regular support from doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists we can do more to help people manage or improve their conditions."

People in the work related activity group for ESA already have ‘work-focussed interviews’ with Jobcentre Plus as a condition of receiving their benefit. In the pilot area this would be replaced by meetings with healthcare professionals. The length and frequency of the meetings would be flexible, depending on the individual’s needs.

The regular discussions will focus claimants on how they can improve their view of their readiness for work by taking steps to manage their health issues. They will not replace a person’s GP, but can promote health support and help a claimant to reengage with their GP if they are struggling to adapt to their condition.

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