In the latest move to increase GP capacity, the UK government have changed the law on provision of ‘fit notes’.
Currently, employees who are off work due to sickness for more than seven days may be asked to provide a ‘fit note’. This sets out that they are unfit for work, the reason for this and the date on which they expect to be able to return. Up until now, this fit note has been provided by a doctor.
From 1 July 2022 employees will no longer need to speak to their GP in order to receive a fit note. Instead they’ll be able to receive these from a broader range of healthcare professionals including nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists too. The government hope that this will free up GP’s to increase appointment availability for other medical concerns.
The healthcare professional issuing the fit note will still need to conduct an assessment of the individuals fitness for work and it will not be possible for an individual to be handed a fit note ‘over-the-counter’ at a pharmacy. There is some argument that a specialist (such as physiotherapist, working with a patient) may be better placed to assess an individual’s fitness for work and whether any changes in the work place could help facilitate a return to work. However, there is also some concern that this broadening of options may lead to an increase in fit notes being issued without any ‘real’ assessment being carried out. Time will tell.
In April 2022, the law changed to allow a fit note to be signed digitally, a significant change from the previous rules which required every fit note to have a ‘wet ink’ signature from a doctor. At the moment, both digitally signed and wet ink fit notes are valid whilst systems are being updated. We understand that the intention is to move to a fully digital form in the future and that these will simply state the name and title of the person issuing the fit note.
Employers may want to highlight these new rules to anyone who is responsible for receiving and processing fit notes in their organisation, ensuring that all managers are up to date on the changed validity requirements. As a reminder, employers should pay particular attention to the contents of an employee’s fit note. Although more often than not, they are unfortunately fairly limited in detail, fit notes may set out that an employee is fit for work, subject to some changes (e.g. a phased return or different duties). Employers should work with the employee to explore the options for a return to work, as appropriate.
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Posted on June 15, 2022