Patients will not need to get a fit note until they have been off work for more than 28 days under temporary measures to free up GPs for the Covid-19 booster programme.
The Department for Work and Pensions said that until 26 January, people will be able to self-certify for four weeks rather than being asked to get a note from their GP after one week.
Under the new legislation employers will not be able to ask for proof for workers to claim statutory sick pay until after 28 days have passed.
Fit notes will also not be needed for benefit claims until 27 January, said the DWP, upon announcing the new requirements from Friday 17 December.
‘These changes are to give GPs more time to work on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) booster programme,’ the DWP said.
‘If you are concerned about your health condition, you should continue to see your GP.’
An NHS England bulletin outlining the rule changes said: ‘Whilst we expect this to cover the vast majority of fit note requests, GPs may continue to receive some for access to occupational sick pay depending on individual contractual arrangements.’
Anyone who started their sick leave before 10 December 2021, must give proof if they have been off work for more than seven days, including non-working days, the Government advice said.
And if employees are self-isolating and cannot work because of Covid-19 they can get an ‘isolation note’ online from NHS 111, as before.
Doctors welcomed the move although some said it had been poorly communicated to GPs and the wider public.
Dr Jane Wilcock, a GP in Salford said the temporary changes needed to be in place for longer and more widely publicised.
‘I am not aware that DWP or NHSE have circulated it appropriately for the public, GPs or Allied Health Professionals to be of practical use so publicity of it would be helpful.
‘I am not sure why the expiry date is so short for people recovering from Covid-19 and it looks like this will still be an issue in February 2022.’
Dr Simon Hodes, a GP in Watford said: ‘The temporary changes are part of a raft of measures to try and reduce some bureaucracy and workload in general practice at an extremely busy time and are all welcome.
‘It is fantastic to see our new BMA chair Dr Farah Jameel in dialogue with Dr Nikki Kanani at NHS England and working together.’
But he said with specific regards to fit notes, it may reduce some questions but many patients may ask for one anyway.
‘It may be quicker to simply give them a formal fit note then start explaining a new temporary system and having them question it and possibly come back requesting a GP note at a later stage. However, I do welcome the changes in principle.’
Dr Selvaseelan Selvarajah, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said he would like to see the rules around fit notes changed in the longer term.
‘I definitely would welcome a permanent change especially for the employed – 28 days makes absolute sense as some illnesses could take longer than seven days to recover.’
The Government has pledged to reduce GP workload relating to fit notes in the longer term, including by making them fully digital and encouraging hospital doctors to issue them to their patients.
Other measures to reduce workload, as set out in NHS England’s bulletin:
- The DHSC will temporarily halt the renewal requirement for existing prescription charge exemptions. The requirement remains for newly diagnosed patients. NHS Business Services Authority will alert patients with existing exemptions due to expire before 26 January and issue a new certificate for a further six months. If patients requiring renewals have already arranged with their GP practice to have their form signed and this has not yet been done, ‘no action needs to be taken’.
- The Home Office has written to the main shooting organisations to ask firearms certificate applicants to wait until January to request medical information from GPs. However, practices are asked to ‘still consider providing the information’ for ‘particularly urgent’ applications, for example due to ‘work commitments or the imminent expiry of their certificate’.
- The DVLA has suspended requests for medical information from GPs for driving licences until 12 January, excluding essential workers such as bus and lorry drivers.
Source: NHS England