Sicknotes to be replaced with electronic fit notes to speed-up return to work

Sicknotes will be replaced with electronic ‘fit notes’ that aim to get people back into work quicker after sickness absence, the government has confirmed.

Health secretary Alan Johnson announced his official response to Dame Carol Black’s report into the health of Britain’s working age population, published in March.

About 172 million working days were lost in 2007 due to sickness absence, according to the CBI. Absences that last more than four weeks make up about 40% of days lost its research has shown.

Other measures designed to tackle the UK’s estimated £100bn sickness absence bill include pilots of ‘Fit for Work’ services, designed to support people on a period of sickness absence to return to work.

Other proposals include:

  • A National Centre for Working-Age Health and Wellbeing
  • Health, work and wellbeing co-ordinators – who will offer advice and support to help local partnerships with smaller businesses
  • Pilot of occupational health helpline for smaller businesses – the helpline will offer access to professional occupational health advice
  • Access to a fund that will encourage local initiatives that improve workplace health and wellbeing
  • Review of the health of the NHS workforce – identifying action to improve the health of NHS staff.

Johnson said: “Sick leave costs an estimated £100bn per year – but helping people stay in work doesn’t just have an economic imperative, it has a moral and social one too. Poor health can prevent people fulfilling their potential, leaving them more likely to slip into poverty and social exclusion.

“That is why we have set out a comprehensive framework to help support employers and the NHS encourage individuals back into the world of work as soon as possible.

Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, said: “I welcome this response and I am glad to see the government has taken on board my recommendations and is committed to action.”

Manufacturers’ organisation the EEF said the Fit for Work service for employees in the early stages of sickness absence was likely to make the biggest difference to employers.

Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF’s chief medical adviser, said: “Too often there is an emphasis on what the employee cannot do rather than what they can do. This system should help us tackle sickness absence in a positive manner by enabling employees to return in a role that suits both the employer and employee.”

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