The Government is considering reform of the fit note system
On 16 November 2023, the Government announced that it plans to consult on reform to the fit note system (sick notes). The announcement was made as part of the government’s launch of a new Back to Work plan for welfare reforms to support individuals with long-term health conditions, disabilities or long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work, alongside tougher sanctions for those who do not look for work.
Although there are no specific details of the proposals for reform of the fit note system at this stage, the Government has indicated that the intention is to provide individuals whose health affects their ability to work with easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support.
The Government states that GP surgeries will continue to play an important role in supporting people whose health is a barrier to work, but pressures on time and expertise mean they cannot always hold work and health conversations effectively. The rollout of reforms will begin with trials in a small number of Integrated Care Boards, which will offer better triage, signposting and support to those have received a fit note for a prolonged period of time. The trial is intended to inform the launch of a consultation on reforms to the fit note process, better integrating it with easy and rapid work and health support.
Various Governments have tried different approaches over the years to improve sickness absence rates. Whether this new plan will achieve anything new remains to be seen. When Fit Notes were introduced the aim was that GPs would make recommendations as to what employers could do to bring someone back to work. GPs lack the time and resource to engage properly with what can be done and routinely Fit Notes simply state “not fit to work” and the reason, and fail to address the issue of return. It’s not the fault of GPs. It’s the fault of the Government starving them of resources. Perhaps Government attempts to reform Occupational Health will have more chance of success…
Forgive me if I remain sceptical.
You can read more about the Government’s Back to Work Plan here.
This blog was written by Karen Jackson, MD of didlaw.