The government has announced a new occupational health advisory service which will provide employers with bespoke, independent advice for cases of sickness absence lasting more than four weeks.

Currently, only 10 percent of employees in small businesses have access to an occupational health service, compared with more than half of the staff in larger firms.

The new service will enable businesses of all sizes to access expert advice to help them manage sickness absence. As a result, employers are expected to save up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay, with an annual increase in economic output of up to £900 million.

As part of these proposals, the government is considering introducing tax relief for employers on the costs incurred in implementing the service’s recommendations as part of this year’s Budget.