The government has moved to calm fears that GPs will lack training in the new fit note scheme when it is rolled out next April.
A survey by the Londonwide Local Medical Committees of more than 450 doctors found that 96% had received no training at all regarding the new fit note.
Under the new system, GPs will replace the hand-written Med3 sicknote with a computer-generated fit note, explaining what work a patient is able to do.
But one doctor warned: “Without proper training and time for GPs to take over this task, it is more likely many GPs may just fill in the fit notes according to pressure from patients, and thus may not be an accurate assessment of what kind of work a patient is capable of.”
Department of Work and Pensions minister Lord Bill McKenzie said: “We are working with GP representatives to ensure the fit note, which we expect to reduce workloads in the future, reflects the needs of GPs. We are rolling out an education programme for GPs on health and work and we will ensure full guidance is available before the introduction of the fit note.”
Sayeed Khan, chief medical officer at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, and member of the Fit Note Stakeholder Group, said guidance would be published imminently.
“No-one has had training yet,” he said. “The DWP is well into developing training and guidance for employers, GPs and employees. Within the next few weeks, select groups of employers will have a look at what they are producing to give a critical assessment in terms of making sure the guidance is fit for purpose.”
Doctors leaders have warned that guidance is vital if the fit note is to be adopted successfully by GPs. There has been strong pockets of resistance to the reform from the British Medical Association (BMA).
Dr John Canning, a member of the BMA’s GP Committee, said it was important for employers to be supportive as well. “Someone contacted me last week who wanted to go back to work. But her employer wouldn’t let her until she’s been seen by her OH department,” he said.
Fit for Work pilots
The government’s Fit for Work pilots are being kicked off in Rhyl, Scotland, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Birmingham, North Staffordshire, east & coastal Kent, Kensington & Chelsea, Dundee and Wakefield.
The pilots aim to give people who become ill the help they need to manage their condition and stay in work, and bring together support such as healthcare, employment, skills, housing and debt advice. Funding of £13m has been allocated for the service.