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Manufacturing employers seeing 'no benefits' from fit note, says EEF

A report into sickness in the manufacturing sector shows that long-term sickness is increasing among its employees, and that absence is not being remedied by the Government's 'fit note' initiative.

The EEF/Jelf Sickness Absence Survey looks at sickness levels across 335 UK employers in the manufacturing industry. It found 40% of companies reported that their levels of long-term absence have increased over the past two years.

The EEF, the manufacturing sector industry body, is putting forward a series of suggestions to improve the situation. These include spending £6 million of the Government’s £170 million Health and Work Service budget on training 40,000 GPs in occupational health.

The survey included questions about the Government’s flagship fit note health and wellbeing initiative. It was introduced in 2010 to replace the sick note and is intended to give employers and workers more advice from and support from GPs when attempting to return to work after a period of absence.

Results indicate many employers in the manufacturing sector are not seeing the benefit of the scheme, with only 24% reporting it has led to workers returning to work earlier. This is compared to 40% saying it has not achieved this aim.

Only 16% of employers agreed that the programme has improved the advice given by GPs to employees seeking to return to work, while almost half (45%) disagreed this was the case.

Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at EEF, said that absence rates have “plateaued” despite increased investment to tackle them.

“From now on the focus has to be on reducing long-term absence which is only going to happen if we up our game,” he said. “This must start by making the fit note work, so that it can make real inroads on delivering the objective of reducing unnecessary sickness absence.”

The report found that 54% of employers report stress and other mental health problems as a cause of long-term absence, an increase of 6% in five years. Musculoskeletal disorders are reported as a cause by 51% of employers.

Iain Laws, managing director, UK Healthcare at Jelf Employee Benefits, urged businesses to focus on prevention. 

"A focus on prevention must become a priority for UK employers who need to maintain a competitive workforce within an overall population that is both ageing and ailing," he said. "This is not only essential to tackle absence but to also address the less easily identifiable issue of presenteeism. This is fundamentally a wellbeing problem with stress and musculoskeletal issues almost certainly mirrored as the main causes."