New fit note unveiled by government

The government’s new fit note was unveiled in May, setting the stage for the much-maligned Med 3 sick­note to be replaced in GP surgeries from the spring of next year.

The design of the new note, which the government has been working on since last year, is being consulted on for 12 weeks.

Charlotte Bray, occupational health (OH) consultant at Aon Consulting, described the move as “long overdue”, but added that the role of OH practitioners would be critical in making it work, particularly in improving communication between employers, HR, managers and GPs.

“Occupational health expertise can help bridge the gap between the surgery and the office,” she said.

Dr Doug Wright, head of clinical governance at Norwich Union (now Aviva) Healthcare said GPs, employers, the government and health providers all had to be engaged in its design.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber added there was a danger the sicknote process could become just “a dialogue between the GP and the employer, and workers may feel they are being forced back to work”.

And the British Medical Association, which has long been sceptical about the idea, warned that GPs were not the right people to be making an assessment of what work-related tasks someone might be able to do. The note also risked leading to a “fundamental shift” in the relationship between GP and patient, it said.

But advocate professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical officer of manufacturers’ organisation EEF, was adamant the change would work for the better.

“A fit note recognises that for many conditions, a phased return to work is beneficial to both the company and the worker,” he said.

A report by the organisation and health provider Unum in May, for example, found that nearly half of employers saw the old sicknote as a barrier to returning to work.

It also reported a 36% rise in long-term sickness absence from 2007 to 2008, despite absence overall decreasing, with delays in access to NHS treatments cited as one of the main headaches for many employers.

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