Manufacturers lose faith in fit note system

British manufacturers have lost faith that the government’s fit note programme is getting people back to work, according to research by manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

The 2013 EEF/Westfield Health sickness absence survey, which questioned 353 employers, indicates that improvements in sickness absence seen in recent years have now plateaued and that further progress will only be made through concerted action to tackle longer-term absence from work.

The research found that sickness absence rates have plateaued at 2.2% and 2.3%, for 2011 and 2012 respectively, after previously falling from 3% in 2007.

The survey also found:

  • The average number of days lost to absence has increased from 5.1 days in 2011 to 5.3 days in 2012.
  • The proportion of employees with zero sickness absence has also remained static at 51% in 2013, having risen steadily from just over 40% over the past five years.
  • Longer-term sickness absence is increasing (40%) rather than decreasing (24%).
  • The key causes of long-term absence remain back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders.
  • 26% of respondents said the fit note has resulted in employees returning to work earlier, compared to 40% of employers which said it had not.
  • More respondents said they disagreed (49%) than agreed (20%) that the advice given by GPs about employees’ fitness for work has improved.
  • GPs are now seen as the second biggest barrier to rehabilitating employees who have been off sick from work.

Terry Woolmer, head of health and safety policy at EEF, said: “We are only going to make further progress on sickness absence if we do something differently.

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“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 government needs to sit down with employers and the medical profession to understand what is holding up progress and agree a way forward.”