Employee Benefits Summit 2010: Fit notes entail a fundamental change of mindset

Fit notes entail a fundamental change of mindset for employers and medical professionals to implement but are essential for reducing the cost of sickness absence and improving long-term workplace wellbeing.

Addressing delegates at the Employee Benefits Summit, held in Monte Carlo, Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work at the Work and Wellbeing Delivery Unit, admitted that some organisations had experienced problems with fit notes, which were sometimes not completed properly by GPs.

For example out of the 2,900 fit notes received by The Royal Mail, only 31 of them contained information on what an absent employee may be fit to do in the workplace.

“This is a massive change. It is not easy to do but the whole aim [now] is to get the fit note used properly.”

Black argued that the previous sick note system did not benefit the employer or employee. “I think it is poor advocacy for the patient to be kept in a system which can lose them their self esteem, dignity and status in society,” she said.

“The sick note has been around for 80 years. All it is a binary system, either you are a 100% fit or 100% fit.”

She reminded employers that sickness absence was costing UK businesses £100 billion a year, which is the equivalent to running the National Health Service and the gross domestic product of Portugal.

One of the key disincentives to employers of overhauling their health and wellbeing strategies was lack of awareness of the business and social benefits of early intervention, as well as the perception that [an employee] needs to be 100% fit to return to work.

Other barriers to early intervention Black cited were the present economic climate and managers being ill-equipped to manage employees’ health.

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