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Employers and doctors get the facts on fit notes

22nd February 2010

People off work sick will get the support they need to get back to work earlier, as new guidance is launched today.

The introduction of the fit note, in place of the traditional sick note, is set to cut the cost of sick leave for employers. It is expected to benefit the British economy by an estimated £240 million over the next ten years.

From 6 April, doctors will be able to advise if a patient ‘may be fit for work’ and offer advice on the effects of their health condition. Doctors will have the option to advise that their patient would be able to work, subject to the employer’s agreement, if temporary changes such as reduced working hours or amended duties could be accommodated.

Lord McKenzie, Minister for the Department for Work and Pensions said:

"The fit note will reduce the costs employers often have to bear when people are off sick for a long time. We know work is good for people’s health. With the right support in place, employers and doctors can work with employees to help them get back to work sooner."

Guidance on the fit note is being published today following extensive consultation with business groups and medical representatives. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is urging employers and doctors to visit www.dwp.gov.uk/fitnote to find out more.

Commenting on the development of the guidance, Dr Bill Gunnyeon, Chief Medical Adviser at DWP said:

"From the outset, the development of the fit note has been a collaborative effort. It demonstrates what can be achieved when Government, healthcare professionals, employers and other key stakeholders work closely together towards a common goal. We need to continue this good work once the fit note is in place to ensure it delivers the benefits it should for individuals, employers and GPs."

The new guidance has been created by the Department for Work and Pensions with the Royal College of General Practitioners, British Medical Association, CBI, Acas, Federation of Small Businesses, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Association of British Insurers, British Retail Consortium and EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation. The fit note reflects medical evidence that work is generally good for health and well-being and can aid recovery for many health conditions.

Making simple, practical adjustments to help people back to work at an earlier stage will benefit both the employer and the employee. This will prevent long-term sickness absences and will also ensure employers do not lose the expertise of their staff.

Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work said:

"Work plays a significant role in determining a person’s health. The fit note is a hugely important development which means that GPs will be encouraged to think about their patient’s ability to work and provide more helpful information to patients to discuss with their employer. This is why the fit note is a win-win for both employees and employers."

As small businesses are most likely to benefit from access to further occupational health advice, a new occupational health adviceline is being extended to give every small business in Britain easy access to professional occupational health advice from 1 April.

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