The Government is planning to reform the fit note process ‘to make it easier and quicker’ for people to get ‘specialised’ work and health support.
This will begin ‘with trailblazer trials in a small number of ICBs’, and the pilots will inform the launch of a consultation to ‘improve’ the fit note process, it said.
The move forms part of a series of measures the Government claims will help 1.1 million people with long-term health conditions, disabilities or unemployment to look for and stay in work.
Yesterday’s announcement carried little detail on what reforms are planned but it stressed that GPs ‘will continue to play an important role in supporting working age people where their health presents a barrier to work’.
A letter to ICBs, sent today, said they would be invited to ‘become a WorkWell pilot site’, with a full prospectus to be published in the ‘coming weeks’.
According to the letter WorkWell is ‘a new, forward-thinking health and disability support service’ which aims ‘to better integrate local employment and health support for disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay and succeed in work’.
Across 2024/25 and 2025/26, around £57m will be made available through a grants competition for approximately 15 areas to become vanguard (pilot) WorkWell services, the letter said.
‘Pilot areas may have the opportunity to take part in testing future government work and health initiatives should they wish to be involved. We are particularly interested in how we can integrate WorkWell pilot services with wider testing on reform of the fit note process in a small number of trailblazer sites.’
The letter said that vanguard areas ‘will design and deliver a new early-intervention assessment and support service’. This will ‘provide participants with light-touch holistic support for their health-related barriers to employment through return to/thrive in work plans, and a single, joined-up view and gateway into the services that are available locally to manage their specific needs’.
‘The service will be available to anyone with a disability or health condition who needs support to start, stay, or succeed in work, regardless of whether or not they are claiming benefits for this.’
The pilot areas will be expected to ‘drive a joined-up approach to integrating the range of work and health services at local level, including ICBs, local authorities and Jobcentre Plus’, it added.
Also as part of the initiative to get people back to work, the Government said NHS Talking Therapies service will also be expanded to offer treatment to an additional 384,000 people over the next five years.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will use his Autumn Statement on Wednesday next week to outline the plan.
He said: ‘We’re serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren’t looking for work – especially because we know so many of them want to and with almost a million vacancies in the jobs market the opportunities are there.’
Health secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘We know that tailored work and health support initiatives can help break down the kinds of barriers that can make finding and staying in a job more difficult for those with mental health conditions.
‘Backing them with further investment means they’re more widely available, enables personalised help and will get thousands back to work by overcoming any issues that may be preventing them from fulfilling their career potential.’
A recent Government consultation asked GPs for their opinion on further extending the pool of professionals who can sign 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.
In August, the RCGP urged the Government to involve GPs in discussions around plans for the future of fit notes, including possible automatic referrals to ‘life coaches’.
And the BMA described Government plans under which GPs may be encouraged to recommend people with long-term sickness return to work to reduce the number of fit notes as ‘ridiculous’.
Earlier this year, Pulse also reported that GP surgeries could station job coaches under Government plans to get unemployed over-50s back to work.