Reform Of The Sick Note

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Reform Of The Sick Note

Author: Laura Spence

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care issued a call for evidence to explore reforming the fit note process.

Why is this happening?

This comes following the Autumn Statement last year which confirmed the Government’s intentions to carry out a ‘Back to Work Plan’ for welfare reforms. 

The call for evidence is set to remain open until the summer months, which is likely to be followed by a full consultation on specific policy proposals later in the year. This call for evidence is therefore, set to shape the future of the fit note.  

Many people that take periods of sick leave can return to work fairly quickly, without the need for additional support following the issue of a fit note. Many workers though, including those that are more vulnerable and/or suffering with chronic conditions, may require a more detailed assessment and discussion about their work and health. This call for evidence is intended to provide a better understanding of how those with long term health conditions can access timely work and health support, with the view of getting people back to work.

This comes at a time the Prime Minister describes as a “sick note culture”.  He says that we don’t just need to change the sick note we need to change the sick note culture. Rishi Sunak has claimed that to get out of this sick note culture, he wants to change sickness absence procedures, including obtaining fit notes, to reflect what workers can do, rather than what they cannot do. If the current proposal is implemented, it is also likely that fit notes will no longer be issued by GPs, but specialist work and health professionals instead. If the Labour party are elected, we could see a completely different approach. Nonetheless, this collation of evidence is likely to shape the relevant political party’s approach.

What does this mean for employers?

The Government hopes to collect as much evidence as possible to assess the impact of the current fit note process from the perspective of employers, healthcare professionals, individuals, and other interested parties.

Employers will have the opportunity to comment on the efficacy of the current fit notes process, and in particular whether it is meeting their business needs or alternatively, what could be improved. The Government is particularly keen to find out:

  • Whether additional information would be useful for a “may be fit to work” fit note which in turn could support employees return to work.
  • About employers’ experience with private providers who supply fit notes (or “work sickness certificates) for fees.
  • About employers’ experiences in general with fit notes, including in relation to the role of occupational health.

Other individuals, including clinicians are urged to provide their input on:

  • Whether issuing fit notes is a good use of GP’s time.
  • The challenges and enabling factors for healthcare professionals in having in-depth work and health conversations with individuals requesting fit notes.
  • Whether more detailed advice would be useful on “may be fit for work” notes to support individual’s work and health needs. Also, how those individuals that would benefit from more in-depth conversations and advice about their health can be identified.

You can respond to the call for evidence on behalf of an organisation or as an individual by using the online form.

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