Sick note culture gets a dose of government medicine

Britain’s sick note culture has received a heavy dose of medicine from the government.

They’ve prescribed a new course of treatment for one of the big ills of British business – the amount of sick leave that employees take each year.

It came into force on 6 April and means that in future doctors will be able to advise on the sort of tasks employees should be able to perform rather than simply issuing them with a note declaring them too ill to do any work.

The hope is that the new system – known as ‘fit notes’ – will stop long-term sick leave absences and make sure that employers do not lose the skills and expertise of key staff members for any longer than is absolutely necessary

As part of this, doctors will have the option to advise on changes that could be made, with the employer’s agreement, to help facilitiate a return to work.

This could be great news for the tens of thousands of people incapacitated each year by work-related musculoskeletal problems – one of the biggest causes of workplace absences.

We already have service level agreements in place with dozens of Britain’s blue-chip businesses which allow us to try to find solutions for desk-based employees suffering back pain or upper limb disorders.

Often this involves little more than a minor change to the person’s workstation set-up. But it invariably means that people are able to continue to work where previously they had been prevented from doing so.

Now this facility could be extended to thousands of small and medium-sized businesses if GPs make the necessary recommendations in their fit notes. But that could be a big if.

As Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the CBI, said: “For the policy to really work, GPs must continue to improve their understanding of workplace health issues."

If they do, the benefits to both employers and employees could be huge.