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Fit note update modernises sick leave

The government has introduced new legislation allowing medical professionals other than GPs to provide fit notes for sick workers if they are unable to work.

Under the new guidelines, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists will be able to issue fit notes, giving workers more flexibility when seeking necessary time off work.

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Prior to the new legislation, only doctors were able to issue fit notes for patients - required when an absence from work lasts for longer than seven days.

The government also released additional guidance to healthcare professionals for issuing fit notes, explaining that they can be given either way to say that someone is or isn't fit to work. 

Matt Jenkin, employment specialist at law firm Moorcrofts, said the new legislation would provide greater support for employees.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “The extension of who can sign fit notes along with the government’s guidance to healthcare professionals on the completion of fit notes should be welcomed. 

"By allowing other healthcare professionals to sign, it does recognise that modern healthcare is not solely focused around doctors but that others play a valuable part and may be in a better position to make an assessment as to an employee’s fitness to work."

The new rules also fix a long standing problem with fit notes, Jenkin added.

He said: "The guidance attempts to deal with a long standing criticism of fit notes, namely that doctors were not sufficiently trained in how to complete them, particularly when an employee may be fit to work.

"By issuing detailed guidance, fit notes should be more meaningful and help employers put support in place to help an employee in returning to work."

Abigail Maino, partner at law firm DMH Stallard, said that the rule changes would help to reduce employee absences.

She said: "If employees are able to receive an assessment from a more specialist healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist, then it would be hoped that more tailored advice can be given in via the fit note, reducing the time an employee is absent.

"Whether this will happen in practice remains to be seen, as employees are still likely to contact their GP in the first instance for a fit note.

"From a practical perspective, employers should check the wording of any relevant policies on the requirement to produce a fit note and inform relevant individuals across the business of the change."