Please be aware there are proposed changes to the issuing of fit notes coming into force on 1st July 2022.
You will recall the Government made some back-door changes with limited publicity at the latter part of 2021. To ease GP pressures, they made an interim extension to the period of self-certification to 28 days from 7 days under the guise of Covid-19 measures however this reverted back to the usual 7 days in February 2022. To be clear, all sickness absence over 7 calendar days requires being certified by way of a fit note by a medical practitioner.
A fit note provides evidence to you as an employer about an employee’s absence and any relevant advice on how to support them to remain in work or a return to work. The documentation is also required to enable an employer to process, where applicable, any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) entitlement to the employee.
Since April 2022, you may have noticed a further minor change was introduced in which GPs are no longer required to provide an ‘inked’ signature on a fit note. This requirement has been removed to allow for fit notes to be certified and issued digitally. There has recently been a period of cross-over but moving forward you will no longer see ink signatures on fit notes, so please do not be surprised or question the validity of a fit note where you may previously have expected to see an ‘inked’ Doctor’s signature.
This change has also paved the way forward to new legislation, allowing a wider range of healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, to certify the so-called ‘fit notes’ and this was laid before UK Parliament on 10 June 2022.
These changes have been further introduced to ease pressure on GPs and appointments. It means, from 1 July 2022, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists in England, Scotland and Wales will all be able to legally certify statements of fitness for work – something that at present only medical doctors can do.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the change, which is the most significant since the fit note’s inception in 2010, will support and “empower better conversations about work and health between employers and staff” by making it easier to get this advice certified by the most relevant healthcare professional.
However, even at this late stage it is not yet clear how these legal powers will be introduced in practice, the conditions of their use or whether all pharmacists — including those not based in GP practices — will be able to certify fit notes from July.
Maria Caulfield, Pharmacy Minister, said: “Extending powers to provide fit notes to other healthcare professions will relieve further pressures on GPs and is another step towards helping to deliver an extra 50 million appointments in general practice a year by 2024”.
President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) Claire Anderson said: “Pharmacists are taking on increasingly clinical roles, and the provision of a fit note may be an appropriate part of a consultation with a patient. However, we have a number of concerns that must be addressed to enable pharmacists to provide fit notes.
“First, although pharmacists working in general practices have access to medical records, this is not the case for community pharmacists: it is essential that this is changed to ensure pharmacists have access to all the information required to be able to safely issue a fit note.
“Second, pharmacists already have a significant workload so additional roles must be properly planned for and funded services developed.
“Finally, it is essential that the public is given clear information about where fit notes can be obtained from and not misled that they can be provided by all pharmacists.”
In a statement, a spokesperson from Community Pharmacy Scotland said that the legislation does not mean that all pharmacists will issue fit notes to patients, and stressed that “there are certainly no current plans to offer a service like this through high street pharmacies in Scotland”.
CPS Policy and Development Officer, Adam Osprey said: “CPS would stress that patients and pharmacists should continue to follow current procedures that are in place regarding the granting and extending of fit notes, until such time as their local NHS board announces a change to this”.
As you can see, the finite details for the professionals are still somewhat unclear and this has not yet been published, so we all await to see how this will effectively be put into practice.
advo will continue to keep you posted on developments however we wanted to advise you of this imminent change, as from 1 July you may receive fit notes submitted from your employees which are not completed by a doctor or GP but another medical professional.
Individuals that struggle to obtain Doctor’s appointments may find this change of benefit.
You may not be aware, but if your organisation offers a private medical health scheme, this often includes access to on-line GP services, who can issue on-line fit notes as an alternative means of getting an employee’s absence certified. If you are considering expanding your employee benefits and considering healthcare provision then please do not hesitate to get in touch as our EB team who will be able to offer you their invaluable advice and support.
As always, if you have any questions on this change or any other HR matter then please do not hesitate to contact your HR Consultant.