Physiotherapists, podiatrists and even drama therapists to help GPs sign patients off sick
Exclusive: A range of allied health professionals including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and podiatrists will begin making independent assessments of patients' fitness for work from next month, under a new scheme developed in conjunction with ministers which could significantly cut GP workload.
The scheme – which could eventually see drama therapists and art therapists issuing assessment certificates directly to employers and patients - has been developed by the Allied Health Professionals Federation, in consultation with the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, and has received the backing of the CBI.
The independent assessments will not replace the Med3, which GPs will still be required to issue in order for patients to claim state benefits.
But as with the Med3, the assessment form will require allied health professionals to state if patients are ‘not fit for work' or ‘may be fit for work' if certain advice is followed. The form can be used by employees as evidence for sick pay, and patients will be able to present it to their GP as supporting evidence when applying for a Med3.
Leonie Dawson, professional adviser at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, told Pulse: ‘If somebody has to be signed off sick, then we hope that they already have the AHP form out. We will be able to transfer that electronically to the GP and they will be able to cut and paste that into the fit note, which will save him time.'
‘Hopefully he will just say "Yes that is great" and he will progress the patient back to work using this advice.'
Ms Dawson said a five-year pilot was planned to see if the form could potentially replace the Med3 statement. The form will initially be used by physiotherapists, occupational therapists and podiatrists, although a spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said all allied health professionals would begin to use it ‘if they could demonstrate their competence'.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it had been consulted on the scheme, but it was not part of separate plans to roll out independent assessments of fitness to work and there were no plans for it to replace the Med3.
‘The aim is to give other health professionals a voice, apart from GPs, about whether someone is fit for work,' a spokesperson said.
GPs were divided over the plans, with Dr David Bailey, GPC negotiator and a GP in Cardiff, suggesting the certificate could make life easier for GPs.
‘Part of allied health professional's core business is looking at your functional fitness and that may be of benefit for GPs, he said. ‘But it is not going to reduce GP workload if they still have to come to them for the Med3.'
But Dr Sally Hull, a GP in East London and a senior clinical lecturer at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said while more information from allied health professionals would be useful, a formal system to feed this back to GPs was needed.
‘There is scope for confusion and this is where good communication between the allied health professionals is absolutely key,' she said.
The Confederation of British Industry, supported the introduction of the new certificate and encouraged employers to use it.
Pippa Morgan, CBI Employment policy adviser, said: ‘It's important that employers are given clear, expert advice so they can help their employees to return to work. It's the quality of this advice – not who is delivering it – that is an employers' primary concer
How the new form will work
- The ‘AHP Assessment of Fitness for Work' form enables allied health professionals to advise if their patient is ‘fit for work' or ‘may be fit for work'
- If a patient is fit for work, the allied health professional is able to suggest options that would facilitate the patient to remain at or return to work
- The form can be used alone as guidance for an employer, and can be used by employees as evidence for sick pay
- The form cannot be used on its own to claim state benefits, that would need to be supported by the Med3 statement from a GP
- Physiotherapists, podiatrists and occupational health therapists will initially fill in the form, although other allied health professionals will also have access to the certificate
Source: Chartered Society of Physiotherapy