Sick note responsibility may pass on to OH professionals

GPs
will give up the right to issue sick notes to workers by April 2006

Within
three years, OH professionals may take over the issuing of sick notes, under
radical plans being drawn up by the Government and the medical profession.

GPs
will give up the right to issue sick notes to workers by 1 April 2006, as part
of a new contract between negotiated by the British Medical Association (BMA)
and the Department of Health (DoH) designed to reduce the workload of family
doctors.

Sick
notes would instead be issued by OH professionals, either company doctors or
nurses, according to Dr Simon Fradd, joint deputy chairman of the BMA’s GPs’
committee.

"It
will be occupational health, but not just nurses. If it happens to be a
nurse-run system, then it will be nurse delivered," he said.

At
least six pilot schemes are due to be set up by the autumn, with Coca-Cola’s
plant in Macclesfield one of the first expected to join. Negotiations are also
taking place with a number of motor manufacturers and an NHS Plus site.

Although
opposition to the contract is growing among GPs, and it is not certain it will
go ahead, the plan to change illness certification will go ahead irrespective
of the outcome, insisted Dr Fradd.

Talks
are due to begin with the CBI, the TUC and other unions on how the pilots will
work in practice, as well as continuing fine-tuning discussions with the DoH.

The
main outstanding issues surrounded capacity – how the OH profession will cope
with this new demand – and how it will work for smaller employers that do not
have OH schemes, he suggested. It is expected smaller firms would be allowed to
buy in illness certification services through specialist doctors or an existing
OH scheme.

Firms
are increasingly worried about the amount of time employees take off sick,
despite the number of days lost to sickness falling to their lowest level for
15 years.

Under
current law, employees do not need a sick note until they have been off work
for seven days, although many firms insist on a note within this period.

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