New procedures for sick notes for absence from work are due to take effect from 6 April 2010, when the current system of medical certificates, commonly referred to as 'sick notes', is to be replaced by 'fit notes'.

What is a Fit Note?

The Statement of Fitness for Work, or ‘fit note, is a new Medical Statement that will be issued by GPs from 6 April 2010. It will focus on what work or tasks an employee should be able to do at work rather than what they cannot do.

What’s different about the fit note?

In the past, GPs have had the option to say that either ‘you should refrain from work’ or ‘you need not refrain from work’. With the fit note, GPs will have an alternative option to say ‘you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice’. This will be used when the GP considers that returning to work, with the support of the employer, would be beneficial. In this case, the GP will be able to give information about ways in which the illness or injury is likely to affect an employee’s ability at work.

The GP can also make recommendations for supporting and helping an employee to stay in work or to return to the workplace more quickly. These recommendations may include the following:

   a phased or gradual return to work on a programme of increasing hours

   flexible working arrangements for an agreed period of time

   amended duties, such as restrictions to lifting or working alone

   workplace adaptations where these may be practicable.

Employers should give reasonable consideration to these recommendations but are not obliged to meet them if they are not practicable within the context of their particular business.

Why have these changes been introduced?

Studies show that work is good for health. Prolonged sickness absence can produce its own set of problems, such as isolation, loss of confidence and loss of skills. Being signed off sick, particularly for long periods of time, is not always considered to be the best outcome for health and recovery.

From an employee perspective it can be frustrating to be signed off sick when there are certain parts of your job which you could continue to do. Depending on the sick pay arrangements in place in the practice, it usually means that pay is also reduced or lost.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that fit notes will cut the cost of sick leave for British employers and benefit the UK economy by an estimated £240 million over the next 10 years.

Lord McKenzie, DWP minister, said: “The fit note will reduce the costs employers often have to bear when people are off sick for a long time. We know work is good for people’s health. With the right support in place, employers and doctors can work with employees to help them return to work sooner.”

The new fit note encourages a partnership approach between the employer, employee and medical professionals, with the focus very much on what a person can do, as opposed to what they can’t.

What do I need to do now?

Anyone involved in dealing with sickness, absence or attendance at work will need to understand these changes; and employees will still be expected to complete a Self-Certification Form for absence lasting not more than seven days.

If you are absent – or likely to be absent – from work for more than seven days, you should visit your GP and talk openly and frankly about how your illness or injury will affect you at work, so that the GP can give the right advice to help your recovery.

You should also be open with your employer about what you can and can’t do, so that your employer may be able to offer the appropriate support.

For further support with this or any other HR issue, BVNA members can call the BVNA IRS Helpline on 01822 870270.


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR Manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 25 • No4 • April 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal