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Making fit notes ‘fit’ for purpose: will the new Fit for Work scheme help?

“Fit notes” were introduced and designed to assist employers in managing sickness absence. However, a recent University of Nottingham study commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has revealed that fit notes are not being used to their full potential. Reasons provided for this include: (i) a lack of understanding about how to use fit notes; (ii) GPs having limited consultation time; and (iii) employers and employees lacking clarity about their roles and responsibilities. The study is available here.

The study’s findings suggest that organisations could be missing out on all the benefits that backed the introduction of fit notes in the first place. This correlates with findings by the Engineering Employers’ Federation, and health insurance provider Westfield Health which found that nearly two-thirds of employers believe that the fit note has had no impact on sickness absence in their organisations. You can see a previous blog post looking at this here.

Changes on the horizon?

The study suggests that the fit note has the potential to do so much more in managing sickness absence efficiently with increased understanding of its use. It makes a number of recommendations including specific training for GPs and employers, exemplar ideal fit notes, and the development of best practice in the completion, timing, sharing and application of fit notes. Whether or not changes will be introduced to the fit note system remains to be seen.

More helpfully, Fit for Work, the new government provided occupational health service in England, Wales and Scotland could prove more helpful to employers managing sickness absence. We highlighted this service in a previous blog. The good news is that Fit for Work Scotland is now taking phone referrals ahead of an online referral form which is due to launch later this year. The scheme entitles employees who are off sick for four weeks or more to a free medical assessment to try to support them back to work.

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