Page last updated at 05:29 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 06:29 UK

Sick note is replaced by fit note

By Ian Hamilton
BBC Scotland reporter

sick notes
The government hopes to cut the numbers of long-term sick

From today the "sick note" is being scrapped to be replaced with a "fit note".

The UK government wants to reduce the numbers of people who leave their work on long-term sick, never to return.

The change is part of the strategy to reduce the numbers of people on long-term health-related benefits.

Every week in the UK, one million people go off work on the sick.

After six months, 3,000 are still off.

Of them, 2,500 are still off after five years.

Work plan

According to the UK government, work is generally good for our health and going back to work can aid recovery.

Alternatively, staying off work can lead to long-term absence and job loss, with the risk of isolation, loss of confidence, mental health issues, and de-skilling and social exclusion.

The government claims that the main difference with the new fit note is that it allows your doctor to advise you on how you may be able to return to work.

After a hip replacement operation Varry Lavin's employer, Capita, adjusted her hours to accommodate her recovery.

"The flexibility of the return to work plan was excellent for me, it meant that I could get back to work quickly," she said.

Varry Lavin
Varry Lavin's employer adjusted her hours

Now doctors can advise people like Vary, who are on sick leave for more than seven days, that with support from their employer, they could return to work sooner.

The "fit note" is set to cut the cost of sick leave for employers.

The government expects it to benefit the British economy by an estimated £240m over the next decade.

However, some doctors are not happy, as it could increase disputes between patients and GPs.

There are doctors who do not wish to be seen forcing sick people back to work too early if a patient is not ready.

The unions also have reservations, as employers have no legal obligation to recognise the "fit note".

Ian Tasker, assistant secretary of the STUC, added: "GP's have had no training in how to use or make recommendations on the fit note, since they are not occupational therapists and will not know the person's work duties, structure of the company, or office set-up.

"This means it really is up to the individual to work this out with their employer."

Knowing whether the new sick note will be successful or not could take some time.

It will take at least a year for the new computerised system to be installed that will measure the success or failure of the new "fit note" scheme.



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