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Employers blame GPs for failures in ‘fit note’ policy

British employers have claimed that the failure of the ‘fit note’ system, designed to get people back to work, is the fault of GPs.

A survey by EEF, the organisation for UK manufacturing companies, found that its members deemed the Government’s flagship ‘fit note’ policy – in which GPs provided advice on whether a patient is suitable for any type of work – to have failed.

But LMC leaders said employers were misguided in their criticisms and it was not the job of GPs to decide what goes on in a workplace.

The survey of 353 companies found that only 26% of employers believe that the fit note has resulted in employees returning to work earlier, compared to 40% who said that they have not. According to the survey, attempts at reducing sickness absence rates have stalled, plateauing at 2.2% and 2.3% for 2011 and 2012 respectively, having previously fallen from 3% in 2007.

Companies reported that the failure of the fit note system was partly down to failures by GPs. They voted GPs and NHS capacity as the joint second greatest barrier in achieving successful rehabilitation of long-term sick employees, behind the employees’ health condition.

They also blamed GPs’ failure to provide useful advice. Almost half of companies (49%) disagree the advice given by GPs about employees’ fitness for work has improved, while only a fifth (20%) agree the advice has improved.

EFF therefore called on increased training for GPs to use the fit note, and for a summit between the Government, employer organisations and doctors’ groups to discuss the problems and come up with solutions.

The report on the survey said: ‘Our survey suggests that medical professionals are still disengaged from the fit note process and need to be better engaged through effective training. ‘

It added: ‘It is essential that government, the RCGP, the BMA and employer organisations meet to identify, clarify and resolve the obstacles that appear to be preventing the fit note certification system from working effectively.’

Dr John Hughes, medical secretary of Manchester LMC, said employers were misguided in their criticism.

He said: ‘There’s a simple solution. Occupational health services. It’s not part of our job to know what goes in the workplace. It’s not part of our training or our contract.’

‘Companies have been trying to save money and cut occupational health services in the last few years and they’re trying to dump this work on GPs. Were certainly not going to take it on because GPs are already working at capacity.’