Fit notes have positive impact on absence

The fit-note system is having a positive effect on reducing long-term sickness absence, according to research by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and the University of Liverpool.

The study, which collected data from 58,700 fit notes distributed to 25,000 patients between October 2011 and January 2013, was conducted by the IES and the university for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

It also found considerable variation in how GPs use the fit note, which was introduced in April 2010, and enables GPs to recommend whether someone is ‘fit for work’ and to advise on changes that could help people return to work sooner.

The research also found:

  • GPs need more training to make better use of the fit note system.
  • 41% of fit notes issued by doctors are for mild-to-moderate mental health disorders.
  • Conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety appear to be a growing cause of sickness absence.
  • Patients living in more socially deprived areas were much more likely to be diagnosed with these disorders.
  • Less than 31% of fit notes were issued for this type of health problem for those living in less socially deprived neighbourhoods and it was most likely to be for stress.
  • Women and young people were more likely than men and older people to receive a fit note for a mental health condition.

Jim Hillage, director of research at the IES and one of the authors of the report, said: “Most people who need a fit note get one lasting four weeks or less.

“However, about one in five sickness absence episodes last for more than 12 weeks and 4% last longer than 28 weeks.

“Older people, males and those living in areas of social deprivation are the most likely to have a long-term sickness episode.”