Sick notes could be replaced by 'fit notes' and fit for work schemes launched for people who have been off work due to sickness, under proposals announced by health secretary Alan Johnson and work and pensions secretary James Purnell.

The announcements came in the government's response to Dame Carol Black's report on the health of Britain's working age population, which was published in March.

Other proposals include a review of the health and well-being of the NHS workforce; a national centre for working age health and well-being; local health, work and well-being co-ordinators; and an occupational helpline for small businesses.

Mr Johnson said: "Sick leave costs an estimated£100bn a year, but helping people stay in work doesn't just have an economic imperative, it has a moral and social one too."