A planned overhaul to how fit notes are provided include making them fully digital and encouraging hospital doctors to issue them to their patients to take workload pressure off GPs.
Other reforms will include possible changes to the regulations so a wider range of healthcare professionals can sign them and the creation of a new ‘interactive’ fit note advising on suggested workplace adaptations or modifications for different clinical conditions.
The Government spelled out its intention in response to a consultation on proposals to reduce ill-health related job loss earlier this summer.
While fit notes weren’t part of the ‘Health is everyone’s business’ consultation, many respondents expressed their views about them prompting the Government to outline improvements it planned to make.
Plans include to ‘transform’ the fit note for the future include:
- Removing the requirement for them to be signed in ink, making them fully digital.
- A new interactive version of the fit note which will provide advice and support for suggested workplace adaptations or modifications, based on clinical conditions, to encourage work and health discussions between patients and employers.
- Exploring the amendment of regulations to allow a wider range of eligible healthcare professionals to sign fit notes.
- An e-learning training module this summer to support eligible healthcare professionals with providing fit notes once they are permitted to do so.
- Promoting the use of allied health professionals Fitness for Work Reports as an alternative to fit notes.
- Embedding electronic fit notes in hospital systems and encouraging hospital doctors to issue fit notes to patients in their care, reducing the burden on GPs in primary care from spring 2022.
‘Fit Notes associated with the statutory sick pay system are not working and fail to provide specific advice or feedback for employers. This can frustrate more effective returns to work,’ one respondent to the consultation said.
Another pointed out that appropriate healthcare professionals or employment advisers in primary care surgeries should provide the fit note rather than the GP ‘given GPs cannot be expected to know the impact of each condition’.
In its response, the Government said it was ‘committed to improving the fit note to enhance work and health conversations and the support provided to both individuals and employers’.
The BMA said it had long been in favour of a wider variety of healthcare professionals being able to sign fit notes to take the pressure of burdensome admin in general practice.
And RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘The College has been feeding into the Government’s work on fit note reform with an aim to help reduce the bureaucracy involved. This includes allowing a wider range of eligible healthcare professionals, with the appropriate training, to sign fit notes, and updating how fit notes are certified, by removing the current requirement for them to be signed in ink.
‘The College has been calling for some time for these proposed changes to be implemented, and we need to see this done as a matter of urgency. General practice is already under intense workload and workforce pressures, and reducing administrative workload, would give GPs more time to deliver patient care.’