When the idea that OH professionals might take over sickness certification from GPs was first mooted last year, the reaction from many in the profession was sceptical, to say the least. Worries about workload, competency, cost, confidentiality and conflict (with patients, GPs and employers) predominated.
OH, it was argued, had enough on its plate already without taking on this extra burden. Yet there were those who recognised that, were it to be embraced, OH could actually benefit from the increased profile and responsibility that would come with having a role in the certification process.
After months of preparation, and some delays, year-long pilots examining how OH nurse-based sickness certification might work in practice are due to kick off this month.
The test sites – a mixture of larger and smaller employers – will use a variety of certification models (see box on page 17), which will then be evaluated by academics from Warwick University.
The intention is to be at a point by April 2006 where enough progress will have been made for GPs to begin to give up their responsibility for sickness certification – long seen by family doctors as onerous and not a particularly good use of their time.
It should be stressed, of course, that there is no question of a shutter coming down on GP certification at this point. Even if some element of responsibility is handed over, GPs will retain medical responsibility for patients on their lists.
As part of the preparation for the launch of the pilots, a series of Sickness Certification Pilot Project courses were run in November and December for the OH practitioners involved.
The two-day courses were led by project leader Dr Barbara Kneale, chief medical officer for Peugeot; Gail Cotton, head of OH services for the Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service; and OH consultant Cynthia Atwell. A psychologist and OH physician were also present.
The key message to come out of the training, stresses Kneale, is that OH practitioners need not have anything to fear from sickness certification. “It helped raise the confidence of the OH advisers in the skills and knowledge that they possess,” she explains.
Certainly, for those taking part, the courses were a valuable confidence boost ahead of the launch. OH nurse Karl Brookes was one of 20 or so practitioners who attended the November course. OH practitioners from many sectors, including engineering, office ba