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‘Fit notes’ to be issued by telephone

By Nigel Praities

GPs will be allowed to assess a patient's suitability for work by telephone for the first time, under Government guidance on ‘fit notes' issued today.

The Statement of Fitness for Work will replace the Med 3 and Med 5 forms from the 6 April 2010, and advice from the Department for Work and Pensions says it now can be issued following a face-to-face consultation, a telephone assessment or from another doctor's written report.

Other changes to the statement include that it will only be issued for a maximum of three months and GPs will have to say if a patient is unfit for work, or ‘may be fit for work taking account of the following advice'.

The Government guidance says that GPs should offer ‘simple fitness for work advice' to support patients to stay in work.

It encourages GPs to discuss the health benefits of work with patients and record on the form whether a change in hours, duties or the workplace could help them back to work.

Although, the guidance does warn GPs to not be ‘too prescriptive' in their advice, for example not saying that a patient would need time off to attend a specialist appointment but ‘may' need time off.

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field, welcomed the guidance, saying it was a ‘significant' step forward.

‘GPs can give more helpful advice to patients and their employers to support an earlier return to work. We know work has beneficial effects on recovery. The fit note is in keeping with our holistic approach to patient care,' he said.

In addition to the new guidance, the RCGP is also organising a half-day course to help GPs increase their skills at dealing with issues relating to work and health.

The Med 3 will be replaced by a new Statement of Fitness for Work