Sicknote plan doubts as firms cancel pilots

The future of a government-backed pilot scheme investigating alternatives to GPs issuing sicknotes is in doubt after two of the employers involved pulled out.

Year-long pilot schemes examining how occupational health nurse-based sickness certification might work in practice started in April this year.

A range of large and small employers across the UK are trialling a variety of certification models, which will then be evaluated by academics from the University of Warwick.

One of the strands of work involves access to a nurse-based call centre that logs absenteeism and offers basic medical advice to both employer and employee.

Absence management firm Active Health Partners (AHP) was selected by the Department of Health to trial its services in three different companies.

But a City stockbrokers and a Midlands-based insurance company have pulled out, saying they have been unhappy with the service. The other organisation involved, a charity group, said it would carry on with the scheme until the pilot ended, but the service had not had the impact it had hoped for.

Ingolv Urnes, AHP’s chief executive, defended his company’s role in the pilots, and said responsibility lay with researchers at the University of Warwick.

“There has been limited buy-in for the schemes,” he said. “It is easy to design pilot schemes on the desktop.”

Urnes said AHP’s service was better suited to larger employers with more serious absence problems.

The government has been under increasing pressure from both employers and GPs to change the current sicknote system. It wants GPs to start giving up their responsibility for sickness certification at some point next year.

Several different certification models are being trialled, including using in-house OH departments, access to a visiting OH service and access to an OH practitioner working from a GP practice.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the project would continue despite the drop-outs.

Warwick University was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

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