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Employers Sceptical of Government's Fit Notes Initiative

The business benefits of the Government’s new “Fit Notes” scheme is being called into question by a new 360 degree study of UK businesses and their employees. Just 5% of employers claim Fit Notes would reduce absence rates. 57% of employees don’t think that their doctor is qualified to judge them fit for work**

(PRWEB) March 28, 2010 -- The business benefits of the Government’s new “Fit Notes” scheme is being called into question by a new 360 degree study of UK businesses and their employees. The “early intervention prevention” study by Aviva UK Health shows that business owners and workers are dubious about how Fit Notes will be brought into effect in April 2010, and question the initiative’s power to reduce employee absence rates and get employees back to work sooner.

The launch of the new Fit Note means that instead of giving patients a sick note saying they are too ill to work, GPs will have to decide whether a person may be fit for work with some support, and what employers can do to help them return. This includes a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adaptations.

The initiative is designed to encourage employers to be more responsible regarding employee rehabilitation. It aims to help reduce the impact long term sick leave has on UK businesses, which is estimated to cost the UK economy £17.3 billion*. However, Aviva’s research indicates that both employers and their workforce currently remain to be convinced of the benefits of Fit Notes.

Among the 500 employers questioned, just 5% said they thought Fit Notes would reduce absence rates. One in ten thought they would be hard to administer and 68% had little or no knowledge of the change and how it would work for them. On the employee side, the majority of the 1,000 respondents (57%) did not think their doctor was in a position to say if they are fit enough to work.** This is a view shared by GPs with nearly two thirds (64%) feeling ill-equipped to provide Fit Notes for the UK workforce. A further 15% were non-committal.***

Aviva’s early intervention prevention study suggests that there is a major communications issue to address before Fit Notes can begin to have a positive impact on absence rates. Success of the scheme hinges on GPs being prepared to comment on the functional impairment that their patient has, as well as employers being flexible to adapt the role or the workplace in the short-term. However, the study suggests there is little evidence that this is currently the case.

The research also indicates that employees who don’t have a full understanding of the process may feel Fit Notes could be used to get them back to work too early or even as grounds for dismissal. If left unchecked, this could foster a culture of suspicion or lead to an increase in workplace presenteeism.

Dr. Hugh Laing, Chief Medical Officer for Aviva UK Health and a practising GP comments:

“Any move on behalf of the Government to get people back into the workplace is commendable. However, we are concerned by the apparent lack of awareness of Fit Notes among employers and their workforce. The move from sick notes represents a big change for businesses and will take time to embed. What’s more, we will only reap the long term benefits of this move if the right support and training is in place. Whilst Fit Notes will encourage employers to act more responsibly towards employee rehabilitation and perhaps more importantly help prevent ill-health in the first place, the initiative doesn’t give them the tools or knowledge to do so.

”Employers are often well placed to spot the warning signs in an employee before they go off sick. They therefore have a vital role to play in the success of Fit Notes, so it’s important they are given the appropriate training to enable them to do this. They also need to have access to expert rehabilitation support. This is where providers such as Aviva can help through their broad experience of occupational health, group income protection and private medical insurance.

“When it comes to making Fit Notes work in practice, the Government is missing an important trick by ignoring the important role group income protection and occupational health services could play in the success of Fit Notes. Currently occupational health practitioners are the missing piece of the jigsaw but could perform a potentially crucial support role in bridging the knowledge gap between employers, HR, managers, GPs and workers. Without this engagement, the introduction of Fit Notes may cause more problems than it solves.”

  • CIPD Absence Survey 2009

** All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Lightspeed Research. Total sample size was 500 employers and 1,000 employees. Fieldwork was undertaken in January 2010. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted.

*** Aviva Health of the Workplace 3 Research, April 2009


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