New fit note scheme could save businesses millions

The introduction this April of the 'fit note' scheme could save UK businesses £240 million over the next decade, the government has claimed.

The scheme, which comes into effect on 6 April and replaces the old sick note system, is intended to cut the cost of employee absence.

Under the new scheme, doctors will be able to advise what sort of tasks that employees can perform rather than simply issue a sick note that declares someone too ill to work.

Doctors will have the option to advise that their patient would be able to work, subject to the employer's agreement, if temporary changes such as reduced working hours or amended duties could be accommodated.

Lord McKenzie, Minister for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: "The fit note will reduce the costs employers often have to bear when people are off sick for a long time.

"We know work is good for people's health. With the right support in place, employers and doctors can work with employees to help them get back to work sooner."

The DWP has produced guidance for both employers and doctors on the fit note scheme, which can be found at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/fitnote

The hope is that new system will stop long-term sick leave absences and make sure that employers do not lose the skills and expertise of key staff members.

Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work said: "Work plays a significant role in determining a person's health. The fit note is a hugely important development which means that GPs will be encouraged to think about their patient's ability to work and provide more helpful information to patients to discuss with their employer.

"This is why the fit note is a win-win for both employees and employers."

Further help on occupational health will be made available to small firms with the extension in April of a special advice line.

Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the CBI, welcomed the fit note scheme: "All too often a person is signed off sick when they are able to manage some forms of their work. The fit note will allow doctors to tell employers whether somebody can do parts of their job, as opposed to all of it.

"A phased return to work benefits many people who have been off ill, and the fit note will help them to discuss their options returning to work. But for the policy to really work, GPs must continue to improve their understanding of workplace health issues."