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Is the fit note working?

In April 2010, the system of GP sick notes and medical certificates was replaced by the Statement of Fitness for Work, or 'fit note', as it is commonly known. How effective has it been in getting people back to work?

Staff absence through ill health costs employers dear. An estimated total of 140 million working days are lost to sickness absence every year in the UK, costing employers in the region of £9 billion for sick pay and related expenses. An estimated £13 billion each year is paid out every year in state health-related benefits.

The 'fit note' was introduced to tackle the problems of prolonged sickness absence by refocusing attention on what the employee in question may be able to do, as opposed to what they can't. A GP can either state that an employee isn't fit for any kind of work, or that they are fit for certain types of work under certain conditions. If the employee is fit for work, the GP then has to make recommendations for a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties and workplace adaptations. This information should then form the basis for a discussion with the employer on how best to affect the employee's return to work.

While it's too early to say whether or not the fit note is succeeding in reducing absence rates in the long term, there are already encouraging signs that it is having a positive impact on how we deal with sickness absence. A recent Department of Work and Pensions survey found that many of the GPs questioned felt that fit notes provided a useful platform upon which to begin discussions with patients about work. Findings from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development also show that the majority of employers believe fit notes are a useful tool for helping to understand the reasons behind long-term sickness absence and can help to open up a dialogue with employees.

Acas absence management training helps reduce absence in the workplace and improve overall workplace productivity. Experts are also on hand to work with organisations to assess specific needs and design tailored training programmes to address absence issues.

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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