People on sick leave who are eager to get back to work are being urged to contact researchers.

The Government is spending £3m on a Northumbria University research project which aims to find out what is the best way to help sick people get back to work.

If it is successful it could be widely adopted across the UK as a way to encourage job retention and rehabilitation.

The Routeback project is intended for people who have been on sick leave for between six and 26 weeks and are worried about losing their jobs or businesses.

It is open to people living and working in Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Teesside.

People accepted on to the project may receive extra medical treatment such as physiotherapy or help with negotiating changes in the workplace.

It may also involve rebuilding confidence through training or counselling or simply paying for taxis to get people to and from work if people are unable to use public transport.

Self-employed people may also be given advice or even funding to help them stay in business until they are fully recovered.

Project Manager Cynthia Bartley said: "We are very keen to encourage eligible people to ring up to take part in this research."

While Routeback is aimed at people on sick leave it is expected to have knock-on benefits for doctors and employers.

Gill Hale, Unison's Regional Secretary, said: "This is an excellent opportunity for people to ring and find out if they are able to access any additional support to help them back to work.

"Unlike some other healthcare projects, Routeback puts the NHS right at the centre of the research.'' The research aims to help 1,600 people in the North-East and 7,500 nationwide over a two year period.

It will be monitored by the Government to see if it brings about long term improvements. Anyone interested in taking part in the research project is asked to ring freephone number 0800 052 4038 or visit the website at