Fit Notes To Replace Sick Notes

Following recommendations made by the Government’s National Director for Health and Work, Dame Carol Black, in her report on the health of Britain’s working age population, ‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’, the Department for Work and Pensions plans to replace the current system of hand-written sick notes for those unable to work.

Presently, someone is either deemed fit or unfit for work. Under the proposed new system a doctor will provide a patient with a computer-generated fit note designed to facilitate the individual’s return to work by emphasising what he or she is capable of. Doctors will have the options of advising whether someone is fit for work, not fit for work or fit for some work now. The latter option would be used where a doctor considers that the patient could return to work if some aspects of his or her work were changed, either temporarily or permanently. Also, as doctors are often able to judge with a reasonable degree of certainty when a patient should be able to return to work, it is proposed that they should be able to specify whether or not there is a need to see a patient again when his or her current statement expires.

Where a doctor considers that the patient is fit for some work now, additional information about the patient’s condition or the doctor’s advice for a return to work must be provided. The doctor will also have the option to suggest appropriate adjustments to assist the employee to return to work. The proposed suggestions are:

  • a phased return to work;
  • altered hours;
  • amended duties; and
  • workplace adaptations.

The aim here is to give the employer appropriate information in order to facilitate an employee’s return to work where possible. The proposals make it clear that the employer will not be bound to implement suggestions by a doctor for workplace changes. Changes will be at the discretion of the employer and with the agreement of the employee. However, where the employee is disabled for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, failing to act on a doctor’s advice would not seem a wise move.

Improved communication between employers, employees and doctors should help to identify the causes of an employee’s absence and the intervention necessary to achieve a return to work. However, the British Medical Association has expressed concern that the proposals represent a fundamental change in the doctor-patient relationship.
The details of the proposals have yet to be finalised so some changes are likely before the new medical statements are introduced. This is planned for April 2010, subject to Parliamentary approval.

The material contained in this article is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© , October 2009

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