Lord Hunt of Kings Heath says the barriers to accepting rehabilitation must be broken down

Rehabilitation is climbing up the political agenda with Lord Hunt of Kings Heath pushing forward the debate, engaging the NHS and stirring up debate in the markets. The issue is intricately linked with the Compensation Bill, and Lord Hunt gave an update on what the government is doing to respond to the issues.

Lord Hunt said the government has recognised that the workforce is ageing - by 2008 the number of people over state pension age will overtake the number of children. In just over 30 years the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will increase by 50%, while the number of pensioners over 80 and over will double. Employing a healthy workforce, he said, was essential.

"We know that offering appropriate, timely and effective vocationally focused support is crucial," he said.

The DWP is currently working with the NHS to investigate the cost of vocational rehabilitation, what really works and what benefits it has for industry. Lord Hunt said a partnership "needs to develop between those two departments on delivering an evaluation, the job retention and rehabilitation pilot".

Barriers need to be broken down to ensure rehab is taken seriously, he said.

"Creating the right environment where vocational rehab can be offered, goes much wider than simply putting in place actual physical services.

"And this is a real challenge, balancing the pressures of reform say in the NHS and any potential demand for health professionals to deliver vocational rehab, that is a real issue."

Lord Hunt called for significant changes in attitudes and culture toward the issue.

The DWP, he said, is currently working with the Department of Health and the medical profession to achieve a step change in attitudes "to see if we can actually change the barriers that exist to return to work and help prevent people from falling out of work," he said.

The Compensation Bill will regulate claims management companies clarify the existing common law on negligence, but the details of the Bill are still up for discussion.

There was an opportunity to grip this before the situation becomes worse, he told delegates.

"There's no doubt that the compensation issue is a major issue that we have to address and this whole debate about the nature of risk in society and people's approach to sensible risk management, is probably one of the most important debates that we can have at the moment."

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions

Lord Hunt of Kings Heat

Key point

  • Population is ageing, so more attention must be focused on keeping people healthy
  • There must be significant change in attitude towards rehabilitation
  • Compensation Bill will be introduced to regulate claims management companies