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Doctors to give 'fit notes' instead of sick notes

Doctors to give 'fit notes' instead of sick notes

7th April 2010

Workers who are off sick for longer than seven days will from now on receive so-called fit notes instead of sick notes from their GPs.

Doctors will still be able to say someone is not fit for work, but they will also be able to spell out aspects of jobs workers can still perform. The responsibility will be on employers to help staff return to work in some capacity. But the British Medical Association says more needs to be done so firms understand their responsibilities.

The overhaul of the sick note system was announced a year ago by government adviser Dame Carol Black, the national director for health and work. She calculated that ill-health was costing the economy £100bn a year.

 With the fit note the doctor will be able to advise their patient if they are "not fit for work" or a new option - "may be fit for work taking account of the following advice". Patients will then be encouraged to discuss this advice with their employer to see if they can return to work.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "The responsibility will be on employers to act”. If a GP decides their patient is capable of some form of work, for example if they've got back pain and they should temporarily avoid elements of their normal job, then it will be down to the employer to be flexible enough to accommodate them.

Dr Buckman added: "Employers have a responsibility to provide adequate occupational health services and the government must encourage them to provide that if the overall plan to help more people back to work is to be truly effective”. But, unfortunately, only one worker in eight has access to an occupational health doctor."

The launch of the fit note is going to be revolutionary as it will change the whole culture, keeping people in work helps their physical and mental wellbeing."

Some GPs have been frustrated with the current system because they are unable to assess what work an employee can do if they do not know what their workplace responsibilities are.

Under the current system, a GP has the power to sign someone off work for six months before the case is passed onto a benefits administrator.

About 350,000 people a year transfer from sick notes to benefits, a figure which experts believe could be cut significantly with earlier and more effective intervention.

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