Fit notes replace sick notes in April

The legal changes required to replace sick notes with 'fit notes' have been laid before parliament and are due to be implemented from 6 April this year.

Professor Field: 'This is an important shift for society as a whole'
Professor Field: 'This is an important shift for society as a whole'

A new electronic form is expected to replace the Med 3 and Med 5 forms, and give GPs the option to advise a patient that they 'may be fit for work'.

The GP would then be able to suggest ways that the patient could be helped to return to work sooner, for example with shorter hours or adaptations to the work place.

The RCGP has been running courses to prepare practices for the changes and so far around 1,000 GPs have attended.

RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field welcomed the new form, which he said allowed GPs to make a positive intervention and prevent their patients from slipping in to long-term sick leave and developing further health problems.

Professor Field, speaking exclusively in a podcast on GP's website, Healthcare Republic, to explain the new system, said: 'The changes will be good for patients and will be very good for GPs as well. But this is not a change in isolation, it's an important shift for society as a whole.

'We will move from the very black and white system of being sick or not sick and instead see what we can do to help them get back to work.'

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, an estimated 350,000 people leave work every year to claim health-related benefits and around 172 million working days are lost in Britain each year due to sickness absence.

However, GPC member and Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson warned: 'If the government thinks this is coming in from April, it may be in for a shock.

'I expect most GPs know nothing about it.'

He called on the government to release more information about the upcoming changes.

Dr Watson said that the current sick note system 'doesn't work', but added that asking GPs to declare patients fit to work may put them in conflict with patients.

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