GPs are being asked for their opinion on further extending the pool of professionals who can sign fit notes, as part of a Government consultation.
The Government is currently refreshing its guidance as part of recent legislative changes to fit notes.
Last year, changes to the legislation enabled nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists to legally certify fit notes.
This was the biggest change to the rules around fit notes since they were introduced in 2010 and part of a planned overhaul of reforms that has included scrapping ink only signatures and providing more ‘interactive’ advice on workplace adaptations and support.
Now the Government said it is exploring ways to ‘better promote the fit note as a means of having a work and health conversation that supports those who are at risk’ of falling out of employment.
It is asking GPs, employers and other health professionals to take part in a consultation open until 12 October, giving their views on who should be able to sign off fit notes.
It said it will evaluate the impact of last year’s changes at the end of 2023 as it is ‘too early to draw definitive conclusions about the impact of the regulation changes at this stage’.
The consultation added: ‘This represents a significant step in the longer-term fit note policy journey by drawing on the skills and experience of other healthcare professions working as part of multi-disciplinary teams that can support the fit note to be a more effective tool in sickness absence management.
‘As part of the move to a more multidisciplinary workforce to deliver work and health conversations, should we consider further extension of the professionals who can sign fit notes? And if yes, which professionals should we consider?’
The change in law followed moves in April last year to allow for fit notes to be certified and issued digitally.
The BMA, who has long been in favour of a wider variety of healthcare professionals being able to sign fit notes, said not everybody working within these professions should issue them but should be ‘working in a suitable environment and have the necessary skills and training to have work and health conversations with patients’.
In May, Government plans to encourage GPs to recommend people with long-term sickness return to work and therefore reduce the number of fit notes, were described as ‘ridiculous’ by the BMA.