Individuals signed off work by the GP for long periods of time should now be encouraged to join therapeutic recreational groups or attend life coaching sessions, the government says.

Ministers are now urging employers, job centres, charities, social workers and doctors to refer people on long-term sickness leave for advice and therapeutic recreation, such as running and walking clubs.

Other community activities suitable for people signed off work include singing, cooking and gardening.

These activities will be offered through NHS social prescribing initiatives.

New government plans aim to cut the number of people on long-term sick leave by creating a national occupational health service.

Latest figures show that the number of employees signed off work has skyrocketed and hit a 10-year high.

Mel Stride, Work and Pensions Secretary, and Victoria Atkins, Health Secretary, said: “We know the longer someone spends out of work, the harder it becomes for them to find a job.

“We also know that one in five of those claiming the highest level of health benefits want to work and feel they could do so with the right support.”

A pilot scheme will now take place in 15 areas to test WorkWell – a new service which offers work coaches, mental health treatment and physiotherapy.

Once the trials are complete, ministers are hoping to roll out the scheme nationally, however it might not take effect until next year.

“Where someone could fall out of work and on to long-term sickness benefits, WorkWell is designed to swoop in and provide the support that people need to stay in work, or return as soon as possible,” said Mel and Victoria.

Alison McGovern, Shadow Employment Minister, said: “The scheme is all too little and it’s far too late.”

Roughly 560,000 young people living in the UK are not working due to a long-term illness, data from the Office for National Statistics shows.

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