With flyers in the waiting rooms and the active cooperation of doctors and nurses, Flanders wants to get more long-term sick people back to work.
Flanders today has more than 250,000 people who have been ill for more than a year. That is more than the 210,000 job seekers. Today, for every one hundred Flemish people of working age, 77 are working, 2 are looking for work and 21 are not working. The latter group includes no fewer than six people who are ill for a long time.
That is why Flemish Minister of Work Jo Brouns (CD&V) – in addition to the federal efforts being made – is stepping up to entice long-term sick people to quickly start an integration process with the VDAB. That is the route to work on which the Flemish government has an impact. “Although the first attention should always be on recovery and health in the event of illness, I view guidance on returning to the workplace primarily as an opportunity. We must prevent people from becoming too distant from the labor market and leaving it permanently.”
That is why he wants to encourage long-term sick people in doctors’ practices and hospitals to contact the VDAB as soon as they can. He is allocating 6 million euros for 8 organizations to promote this in doctors’ practices and hospitals. This can range from dropping flyers in the waiting rooms to having conversations with doctors and nurses to convince them to encourage their patients, who are ready, to start a reintegration program at the VDAB. The projects started on Friday and will run for two years. The goal is to guide 4,000 additional people with health challenges to the VDAB per year. Pilot projects in, among others, the rehabilitation department of the Ghent University Hospital, in the pain clinic in the Antwerp ZNA and in various community health centers have already proven their usefulness.
Doctor’s form required to start again
Bringing long-term sick people into the labor market is a difficult process. In 2023, 6,080 long-term ill people started a process with the VDAB, a lot lower than the planned 10,000 for that year. The ambition is even to have 12,000 long-term ill people start a program with the VDAB this year. Hence the additional measures Brouns proposes. He also wants to lower the barriers for people with long-term illness to spontaneously contact the VDAB. Today, only those who have been ill for more than a year can spontaneously go to the VDAB with the request to start a reintegration process. Anyone who has been ill for less than a year needs a registration form from the advising doctor of the health insurance fund that he/she may start. Brouns, for example, wants such a form to no longer be necessary after 6 months.
Not only is the influx to the VDAB difficult, but the number of long-term sick people who actually move on to work after registering with the VDAB can also be much improved. Today that is only 35 percent and the ambition is to reach 40 percent. The VDAB is just one of the ways to guide long-term sick people back to work. The health insurance fund also plays a crucial role. The advising doctor can take the initiative to refer someone to a return-to-work coordinator or a sick person can also take the initiative to contact a return-to-work coordinator of the health insurance fund.