New pilots launched to test sicknote alternative

Employees
at two manufacturing plants in the West Midlands are to get booklets and
‘credit cards’ telling them who to phone if they fall sick, as part of pilot
schemes looking at alternatives to having GPs sign staff off sick.

The
communication package being put together by the HR teams at Peugeot Citroën’s
Ryton manufacturing plant and warehouse in Coventry, and manufacturer London
Taxis International, also in the city, will be central to the experiment from
October.

The
pilot schemes are a response by the Department of Health to demands from GPs to
be relieved of their responsibility for sicknote certification.

In
June, the British Medical Association’s annual conference unanimously voted for
the current system to be scrapped, and GPs want substantial progress to have
been made on alternatives by April 2006.

HR
has also become increasingly frustrated at the willingness of some GPs to sign
people off without questioning why.

Research
by Personnel Today and sister magazine Doctor in 2003 revealed that more than
80 per cent of doctors do not want to be responsible for writing sicknotes,
while 77 per cent admit they issue sicknotes too easily.

Eighty
per cent of HR professionals surveyed said they were seeing more staff signed
off sick – with 30 per cent saying the numbers had increased greatly in the
past year.

The
long-awaited pilots, under the leadership of Peugeot’s group occupational
health and safety adviser Dr Barbara Kneale, will take the form of two models:
using an in-house occupational health department and, for smaller firms,
providing access to remote services.

The
Peugeot and London Taxis models will be broadly similar. Employees will
self-certify as normal for the first seven days and then, rather than going to
their GP, make an appointment to see their OH department.

The
two other pilot schemes, currently involving firms in Banbury, have involved
providing participating organisations with access either to a nurse-based call
centre that  logs absences and offers
basic medical advice or to an OH service where an adviser visits in person.

The
pilot programmes will be evaluated by academics at the University of Warwick.

Any
firms looking to get involved can contact Dr Kneale at barbara.kneale@mpsa.com.

By
Nic Paton

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