Back in March 2010 I reported about the proposed introduction of fit notes, noting that the Government expected savings to the economy of £240 million over 10 years, by aiding the recovery to work of sick workers. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. By July 2010 there were teething problems. Bogus fit notes were widely available on the internet and offered for £9.99 with an introductory “buy one get one free” offer. A further and entirely predictable problem was that employers receiving the fit notes were unable to decipher GPs’ illegible handwriting and therefore overlooked key elements of the process such as, for example, arranging a structured return to work.
In 2015 the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) reported that the scheme wasn’t working. By September 2014 only 5000 GPs from a pool of 40,854 had received training and 43% of employers said that the fit note had not helped employees to return to work. The EEF’s head of health and safety noted that the quality of advice being given by GPs to help people back to work was deteriorating and that, in order to work, the scheme needed greater resources.
Late in November 2017 it was quietly announced that the scheme is to be scrapped. Its failure was blamed on low take up rates and negative feedback from employers. the scheme will end in England and Wales on 31 March 2018 and on 31 May 2018 in Scotland. No further referrals will be accepted after 15 December 2017.
It was reported that there were low referral rates. In August 2017 People Magazine revealed that some 65% of GPs had not referred a single person in the last years and, of those that had used it, 40% reported that no-one they had referred had returned to work.
The website and helpline will remain accessible but will no doubt be phased out in due course.