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Government announces plans for “fit notes” to reduce sickness absence

25 November 2008

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New measures to replace a GP’s “sick note” with an electronic “fit note” have been announced today (25 November 2008) by the government as part of a drive to help people stay in work and reduce the estimated £100bn a year that sickness leave costs the economy.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell and Health Secretary Alan Johnson have announced a package of initiatives in response to Dame Carol Black’s report into the health of Britain’s working age population, published in March.

New measures announced also include pilots for “Fit for Work” services, which will support people on a period of sickness absence to return to work, as well as a “national centre for working-age health and wellbeing”, which will identify evidence gaps and encourage research to close those gaps.

In addition, new “health, work and wellbeing coordinators” will be introduced to offer advice and support to help local partnerships and engage with smaller businesses.

Also announced was a review of the health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce – this will be done in partnership with employers and staff and will identify action to improve the health and wellbeing of NHS staff.

Alan Johnson said: “Sick leave costs an estimated £100bn per year – but helping people stay in work doesn’t just have an economic imperative, it has a moral and social one too. Poor health can prevent people fulfilling their potential, leaving them more likely to slip into poverty and social exclusion.

“That is why we have set out a comprehensive framework to help support employers and the NHS to encourage individuals back into the world of work as soon as possible.”

He added: “I’m particularly pleased to announce a review of the health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce, which will benefit staff and help drive up the quality of care for patients.”

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell added: “We also plan to extend the help available for small businesses so they have the tools they need to be able to support employees with health problems carry on working if they can or return to work as soon as they are ready.”

Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, said: “I welcome this response and am glad to see that the government has taken onboard my recommendations and is committed to action. I am especially pleased the fit note and the Fit for Work pilots will be implemented along with support for small businesses.”

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