Sick notes to be replaced with 'fit notes'

The government has unveiled the introduction of a new ‘fit note’ scheme aimed at encouraging employees to stay in work rather than join the long-term sick.

The scheme is designed to provide employees with advice on how best to keep working and employers with suggestions on helping workers return to the workplace sooner after an illness.

Following a 12-week consultation on its form, the fit note is due to roll out across the UK in the spring of next year.

It will replace the old hand-written sick notes with versions that are computer-generated in GPs’ surgeries.

A government-sponsored review estimated that the cost to the British economy of ill-health amounts to £100 billion annually.

Some 600,000 people submit incapacity benefit claims each year, although data indicate that half had been in work immediately prior to their claim.

Announcing the launch of the new note, Lord McKenzie, the Work and Pensions Minister, said: “Employers tell us that managing sickness absence can be a challenge. This is compounded by a ‘sick note’ system that makes sickness absence a black and white issue – either you are unfit for work or you are not.

“We recognise how important it is to help people who are sick to stay in work or get back to work quickly – the new fit note will help do just that.”

Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw added: “We know that sickness absence is economically and socially damaging and makes people more likely to drift into social exclusion and poverty. Getting people back into work quicker is good for their health as well as the country’s finances.

“The fit note will give GPs a new opportunity to benefit their patients, and I look forward to it being used in surgeries everywhere.”

Business group, the EEF, welcomed the measure.

The EEF's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sayeed Khan, said: "A fit note recognises that for many conditions a phased return to work is beneficial to both the company and the worker. Recovery from some of the most common causes of long-term ill health, including back pain and minor mental health problems, can often be speeded-up by appropriate activity. The fit note provides employers with the information to help an early, but appropriate return to work.”