• Lee Calver
  • 23 June 2015

Employers not seeing the benefits of the ‘fit note’ five years on

According to a survey from Jelf Employee Benefits and EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, the Government’s ‘fit note’ scheme has failed to deliver a major reduction in unnecessary sickness absence five years after implementation.

The scheme was introduced with the intention to help people back to work, but in its survey of 345 companies, manufacturing body, the EEF and Jelf Employee Benefits, found that rather than aiding economic growth and increasing productivity by ensuring people return to work sooner, sickness absence has not noticeably improved.

Research found that 43% of employers said the ‘fit note’ had not helped employees return to work – an increase from 35% in 2010. It was also revealed that 47% of employers believe that the quality of GP advice on fitness for work has declined.

Out of 40,584 GPs in the UK in 2014, only around 5,000 have been trained in health & work, while £170m has been invested in the new ‘Fit for Work’ service rather than in GP training.

In response to the findings, the EEF has urged the Government to set a fixed date by which all GPs and medical professionals will be trained in the use of the ‘fit note’.

EEF Head of Health and Safety, Terry Woolmer, said:

“We have supported the ‘fit note’ since day one and wanted it to succeed. However, the evidence is now clear five years on that it is not delivering on helping people back to work earlier. In fact, the evidence suggests that the quality of advice being given by GPs to help people back to work is deteriorating.

“It can still be made to work but the Government now needs to put its shoulder to the wheel with greater resources. The first step must be to ensure that all GPs and hospital doctors are trained in health and work issues so they feel confident in giving proper advice. Without this as a basis, there is little prospect of the ‘fit note’ ever delivering genuine improvement in return-to-work performance and absence reduction.”

International Workplace’s Tar Tumber added:

“I agree with the recent comments from Terry Woolmer following the publication of EEF’s latest research. We have seen many a ‘fit note’ completed in ways that don’t support a return to work or provide practical advice. It is clear changes need to be made to ensure employers and employees can get the best results possible.”

In addition to greater resources for GP training and a fixed date for GPs and medical professionals to be trained in the ‘fit note’, EEF is calling for a step up in efforts to create greater interaction between GPs, employers and employees.

To aid this process, EEF has developed a template for use by employers so that employees will be able to take this to consult with their GP on what the employer is able to do to aid return to work.

Key recommendations:

  • Link evidence of fit-note training to GP and medical professional CPD and appraisal systems;
  • Create e-communities to allow more effective interaction and communication between GPs and employers and employer occupational health services in the ‘fit note’ process;
  • Provide targeted advice for SMEs who may come across a ‘fit note’ infrequently;
  • Target training of line managers about awareness of the ‘fit note’ process;
  • Target employee awareness and training of the ‘fit note’ process at induction;
  • Analyse and publish GP performance in using the ‘fit note’ and issuing ‘may be fit for work’ fit notes;
  • Modify the ‘fit note’ to include a referral to the Fit for Work Service (FWS); and
  • Produce clear guidance to show the interaction between the Fit for Work service and the ‘fit note’.

To see the research report in full, please click here.