Despite GPs handing out more fit notes than ever in an attempt to get their patients back to work, a significant proportion are being ignored by employers. In fact, one in five doctors say the advice they give is not being followed through.
According to NHS Digital data, 1.4 million fit notes were issued between July and September 2017, which represents a 9% increase over the same period the previous year.
Almost 14% of the fit notes issued during this period were for mental health and behavioural issues, a reality that is a sobering reflection of how many people are affected by stress, anxiety and depression in the UK every year.
However, a survey by leading GP publication Pulse found that over 20% of GPS thought employers weren’t following their advice, compared to 44% of GPs who said they were.
Some GPs even commented that the so-called fit notes, which were introduced in 2010 so doctors could give more advice about the support needed to help a patient return to work, were confusing.
Even though there have been attempts by the NHS to reduce the amount of paperwork GPs need to complete when it comes to helping a patient return to work, there has been an 8% rise in the number of fit notes being issued.
No Evidence That Fit Notes Help
The chairman of the British Medical Association GP committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said doctors’ workloads are increasing as they strive to respond to demand from their patients and, in particular, the growing number of patients suffering with stress, anxiety and depression.
Cambridgeshire-based GP locum Dr Alice Hodkinson said that both employers and employees alike do not understand how fit notes work. As a result, a lot of GPs’ valuable time is wasted for no good reason. She noted that many big companies often want sick notes after two or three days’ absence.
Usually, an employee can be off work sick for up to seven days without a fit note and complete a self-certification upon their return. However, if an employee is absent for more than seven days, their employer will usually ask them to supply a fit note from their GP.
In 2016, GPs narrowly voted that fit notes were a waste of their time which could be better spent performing other duties.
Merseyside GP Thomas Kinloch said: “What do you expect when you call a form issued to cover sickness a fit note? There is absolutely no evidence that fit notes helped early returns to work or reduced overall absence rates and patients still make inappropriate appointments just to get their fit notes in their droves.”
More information about fit notes can be found on the gov.uk website.
With employees and employers alike not understanding how fit notes work, and GPs spending too much of their time completing them, does the fit for work system need revisiting to evaluate its effectiveness?
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