The Statement of Fitness for Work programme, commonly known as the ‘Fit Note’ programme, allows GPs to provide more information and advice on a patient’s fitness for work and therefore assists employees in returning to work. With an increasing number of employees absent from work due to sickness, employers are now losing faith in the programme.
A 2013 Sickness Absence Survey by the EEF manufacturers’ organisation and Westfield Health shows that whilst the programme initially succeeded in improving sickness absence levels, those early successes have now levelled out. Two out of five of the 350 plus firms polled reported they had an increase in employees claiming long-term sickness absence. The report stated that further progress in improving sickness absence levels will only be made through a concerted action to help to reduce longer-term sickness absence and it called for a summit of employers and the medical profession to help to tackle the problem, or risk experiencing further decline.
Terry Woolmer of the EEF stated “We are only going to make further progress on sickness absence if we do something differently.That means making the fit note deliver the advice to help employers and employees work together to get more of them returning earlier to work.”
The average number of days employers lost to employee sickness increased slightly from 5.1 days per employee in 2011 to 5.3 days in 2012. Surgery is still the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence however back problems, stress and other mental health issues are rapidly increasing.