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Fit notes and sickness absence

June 18, 2013

Two interesting documents arrived in my inbox today, An evaluation of fit notes from an employees perspective by the DWP: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2013-2014/rrep840.pdf

and the 2013 Sickness Absence and Rehabilitation Survey 2013 by EEF:

http://www.westfieldhealth.com/pdfs/EEF/survey/EEF-Sickness-Absence-Survey-2013.pdf

 What is interesting is the difference in perception when talking about how well (or not!) fit notes are issued and used. The DWP report talks about the majority of GPs and employers having understood the types of changes in work that would be helpful to employees, while the EEF report shows that there are a substantial number of employers who feel that fit notes are not helping their employees to return to work earlier.  What the DWP report does show is that only a small percentage of fit notes issued gave information on what kind of help their patient needed to return to work. The EEF report suggests that the GP is solely responsible in ensuring that employees return to work as early as possible. While I’m not comparing like with like in terms of the two reports, I suspect that the realities of how effective fit notes are in returning employees back to work lie somewhere in the middle of these 2 reports.

 An employer has a duty of care to their employees to ensure that their health is not affected by their work and for an employee to take a responsible approach to managing their health so it doesn’t affect their work. The GP sits in the middle to give advice and support that should be beneficial to both the patient and their employer.

 There is no doubt that GPs need to get a better understanding of their patients job and the effect it is having on their health and to relate that to what they put on a fit note. Employers need to understand better that they have a responsibility to their employees to ensure that their work doesn’t make them ill.

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