Fit Notes – the rules are changing as of 1st July 2022.
GPs issued around 2.9m fit notes in the three months from October to December 2021 alone (as per the latest figures from NHS Digital) – up around 500,000 from the same period in 2020. This has been seen as an increasing burden on GPs who are struggling to cope with demand for services and the backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
There has therefore been a push to help free up GP time and appointments.
One measure has already come in: from 6 April 2022, a fit note can be issued and received digitally. This ties in with the increasing use of telephone or online GP appointments.
But a second more significant measure is coming into force from 1 July 2022.
Under current rules, only GPs and hospital doctors can sign fit notes.
But from 1 July 2022, new legislation takes effect that will widen the pool of health professionals who can sign off the documents: nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and pharmacists.
When do you need a `fit note’?
A ‘fit note’ serves two purposes.
First, it demonstrates to the employer that the employee has a genuine sickness and is entitled to be off work.
Second, it entitles the employee to access statutory sick pay after the first three days of absence, even if – somewhat confusingly – the requirement to obtain a fit note only applies after seven days’ consecutive absence.
Most fit notes specify that the employee is ‘not fit for work’. This means he/she may not work for period of time stated on the fit note.
The fit note can however also state that the employee ‘may be fit for work’, usually with certain adjustments: typical examples are light duties or a phased return.
In theory, the new rules seem sensible and would help ease the burden on GPs. However, it is quite possible that many health professionals, who are not doctors, may be reluctant to assess an individuals’ suitability for work. This would particularly be the case if they require medication.
Indeed, the BMA has urged some caution in that not everyone in the wider range of professions who will be able to sign off fit notes should do so.
For employers, it would be good practice to update absence policies and even contracts of employment to include reference to the wider pool of health care professionals who may issue fit notes.
No panic though – the legislation overrides contract so employers and employees will not be in breach under their existing wording. But just one to bear in mind next time you do a contract and handbook review. If you need advice on a review, please get in touch here.
See also the Top Tips on short term absence.