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Return To Work Interventions on a National Scale – Research in Action

Return to Work (RTW) – an intervention project

Denmark and other countries have acquired extensive experience by focusing on the therapeutic effect of work on the recovery of people on sick leave. This effect is of benefit to the life quality of the individual, workplace efficiency, and the national economy. However, previous experiences have typically been made on a relatively small scale.

In Denmark the Prevention Fund has granted € 32 Million (240 million DKK) to a two year socially innovative national intervention project involving 22 of the 98 municipalities in the country. The project is based on a research design in order to enable a subsequent scientific evaluation of the effect of the interventions.


Key findings applied on a large scale

The RTW-project builds on emerging evidence from small studies in Denmark and abroad. Particularly three efforts have shown to have a positive effect in relation to a timely return to work for people on sick-leave. These efforts are all addressed in the current RTW-project:

  • Multidisciplinary clarification of the individual sick-leave case
  • Better coordination between employer, health care, social system etc.
  • Early and regular contact with employees during sickness absence

Guidance by specially trained RTW co-ordinators

The intervention focuses on citizens on long-term sick leave at risk of loosing their attachment to the labour market. The sickness absence case will be clarified by a so-called RTW co-ordinator after eight weeks of sick leave at the latest. The co-ordinator will typically be an experienced caseworker who has received special supplementary training through the RTW-project. The RTW co-ordinator will be crucial for the co-ordination between the relevant players including employers, health authorities and the RTW-teams in the municipalities together with a clinical unit which the municipality collaborates with.

The RTW-team consists of a psychologist and a person experienced in occupational physiology and rehabilitation, whereas the clinical unit delivers expertise within psychiatry and occupational, social and general medicine.

Based on previous experiences, it is estimated that the RTW co-ordinator will be able to handle approximately half of the cases alone by co-ordinating the intervention for the person on sick leave. The other half of the cases will require a multidisciplinary intervention involving the RTW-team and possibly a clinical unit.

Evaluation of process and effect on physical and mental health

As part of the project it is evaluated if the intervention has a measurable effect on long-term sickness absence. Earlier studies have primarily focused on physical disorders, but this RTW-project will focus both on physical and mental health.

At the same time, the intervention process is evaluated in order to establish whether the model is workable in practise, and if it can be integrated and implemented in all municipalities.

In connection with the project, two PhD-theses and several research projects on sub-groups on sick-leave and their return to work will be carried out. Moreover, an overall evaluation report to be presented and discussed at a national conference in 2012 will be prepared.

Coordination by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment

A total of 22 municipalities have been selected to participate in the project. As participants in the intervention project they have to set up a RTW co-ordinator, a RTW-team, and a formal cooperation with a clinical unit. During the first year there will be 9 control municipalities which will not need to set up co-ordinators etc. in the first year. In the second year, the control municipalities will participate on equal terms with the intervention municipalities.

The National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NRCWE) has designed the project as part of its “research in action”-effort and will develop the tools and instruments for the RTW co-ordinator, the RTW-teams, and the clinical units. Training of the co-ordinators, teams and the clinical units takes place in cooperation with external partners. Subsequently, the NRCWE carries out an evaluation of the processes and effects of the interventions.

Further information

For further information, please contact senior consultant Glen Winzor, NRCWE

Contact: Glen Winzor

National Research Centre for the Working Environment | Lersø Parkallé 105 | DK-2100 Copenhagen O | Denmark |

Phone +45 3916 5200 | fax +45 3916 5201 | e-mail: | CVR: 15413700 | EAN: 5798000399518

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