New legislation to enable a wider range of healthcare professionals to certify fit notes has been introduced by the UK government to ease pressure on GPs. Grace McGarvey, a legal apprentice in Harrison Drury’s employment law team, explains the role of a fit note and the reasons for the change.
From July 1, 2022, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists (working in hospitals and GP practices) will be able to certify and issue fit notes – which up until now, only doctors were able to issue.
The law change will apply across England, Wales and Scotland and aims to simplify the process of issuing and receiving fit notes.
What is a fit note?
Individuals that are off work ‘sick’ for more than seven days will usually be asked by their employer to provide a fit note (or Statement of Fitness for Work).
Previously known as a ‘sick note’ a fit note is an official written statement from a doctor giving their medical opinion on a person’s fitness for work. The fit note might also include recommendations for how the employer could support the employee.
A fit note advises the employer that the individual is either:
- “not fit for work”; or
- “may be fit for work taking into account the following the advice.”
Fit notes are used as evidence of incapacity for sick pay purposes, as well as enabling the employer to understand the issues and appropriately manage the employee’s absence, and any associated return to work.
A fit note will continue to be issued only following an assessment of a person’s fitness for work, it cannot be issued on request or via over-the-counter services.
What are the benefits to the change in legislation?
The extension of fit note certification follows legislation changes made in April 2022, which removed the need for fit notes to be signed in ink. It is now possible for eligible healthcare professionals to certify fit notes digitally, and for patients to receive their fit note via digital channels, making the process more efficient for employees, their employers and GPs.
It is hoped the latest legislative change will not only ease the burden on GPs, but also encourage better conversations about work and health between employers and employees. It will also help reduce pressure on doctors by simplifying the process of issuing and receiving a fit note and thus cutting bureaucracy for employers and the National Health Service (NHS).
What do employers need to consider when receiving a fit note?
Upon receipt of a fit note, employers need to make careful considerations about supporting employees with a health condition to come back to work. Often, a few simple changes can help someone with a health condition come back to work sooner.
If your employee is assessed as ‘may be fit for work’, their fit note will help you discuss with them what changes may be required for them to continue to work. Although the fit note won’t outline these changes, it will provide advice about how your employee’s health affects what they can do at work.
This gives you maximum flexibility to discuss possible changes to help them return to work (which may include temporarily changing their duties).
Using the fit note to its full potential may also help you reduce your sickness absence costs (for example sick pay, staff cover and loss of productivity), and to minimise the disruption due to the absence of an employee.
If you are an employer and would like to discuss these changes in more detail or require assistance in managing an employee’s absence, Harrison Drury’s employment law team can provide you with legal advice and practical guidance. Contact our helpful employment law team on 01772 258321.