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60% of employers believe that fit notes have made no difference

Research from the UK manufacturers’ organisation, the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF), and health insurance provider Westfield Health found that nearly two-thirds of employers believe that the fit note had no impact on sickness absence in their organisations. While 30% of the employers surveyed said that the fit note had helped them, 11% said that it was worse than the previous system and the 58% did not think it had made a difference at all. The results echo research carried out by XpertHR in 2011, which found that 69% of employers did not think that fit notes helped their ability to manage sickness absence.

In light of the findings, the EEF has called on the Government to implement urgently the recommendations of the Frost/Black review on sickness absence, including tax incentives for companies who invest in rehabilitation and measures aimed at embedding a “fit-note culture” in GP training. The report claims that only 3,500 out of 41,000 GPs operating in the UK have been trained in the use of fit notes. There is a feeling that GPs should be encouraged to make more use of the ‘may be fit for work’ option on the note. Employers have reported that few GPs are suggesting adjustments they could offer in the workplace to enable the employee to be fit for work.

The evidence also shows, however, that the more employers put into a fit note, the more they get out of it. Just under a quarter of employers surveyed proactively provided information to local GPs on the type of adjustments they could offer sick employees to help them return to work. Those that did reported that they received more helpful fit notes as a result.

Ultimately the fit note was designed to help facilitate employees’ return from a period of sickness absence but so far they do not seem to have made this easier. Encouraging both GPs and employers to make better use of the fit note may help. How the fit note (and any recommendations it makes) interacts with an employer’s Occupational Health function is another unresolved issue at this stage.

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