GPs in Sheffield are the first in the country to be able to refer patients to the Fit for Work (FfW) service, COVER's sister title WSB has exclusively revealed.
A team of 20 GPs in the Sheffield area has started using the occupational health referral service with further rollout across the country in the spring designed to build on the experiences from the Sheffield group.
They will be referring patients who have either already been, or are expected to be, absent from work for at least four weeks.
FfW service provider Health Management has contacted all of the GP practices taking part in Sheffield and will remain in contact during this phase to answer queries and obtain feedback.
However, employers are not yet able to refer employees who have been off work for four weeks.
WSB understands that Health Management intends to develop this with further rollout of the service.
As WSB revealed, the first stage of the Fit for Work service went live in December with the launch of telephone and online advice for employers, employees and GPs.
Lord Freud, work and pensions minister said: "Being in work is good for people's wellbeing and it is also important for business growth that sickness absence is managed properly. That's why we accepted the recommendations from a review for an independent support service.
"GPs will provide a vital role in referring patients - with their agreement - to Fit for Work. Support also includes an independent occupational health assessment and a return to work plan to help them return to and stay in work. It's important we get this right so are starting in one area to build on learning."
The Department for Work and Pensions has yet to reveal how it will expand the service across the country.