News & Views

Review calls for demise of ailing GP fitnote system

BY Ian Watson
Employment law
BG Purple

An independent review into sickness absence published on the 21st November has called for a major overhaul of the GP fitnote system to combat the ballooning state costs of supporting sick employees.

According to the review, commissioned in February 2011 by the coalition government, the UK loses 140 million working days per year to sickness absence- with employers picking up the tab for a staggering £9 billion worth of sick pay. A further 300,000 employees end up falling out of work each year and are forced to rely on state benefits at a cost of £13 billion to the UK taxpayer.  

Recommendations include a proposal to introduce tax relief to employers for costs involved in retaining sick employees in the workplace, which the review’s authors expect to save employers £250 million per year. However, one of the biggest changes set out in the review is the proposal to create a new Independent Assessment Service to carry out fit to work assessments.  

The change would have the benefit of freeing up GPs’ time and would remove the burden of fitness assessment from doctors who are often not best placed to determine fitness for particular types of work. The new specialist health advisers would be able to provide bespoke independent advice and healthcare to employees while providing more detailed information to employers, allowing them to better accommodate ill employees.  

The new service is likely to be of particular benefit to smaller employers who struggle with the burden of paying for independent occupational health assessments for employees. It is also expected to be of use for employers of disabled employees, who could receive a more in depth assessment of their employee’s disability. This would allow employers to better gauge what reasonable adjustments they can make to support their employees at work, in accordance with their duty under the Equality Act 2010. 

In total, it is estimated that the introduction of this service would result in savings of £100 million per year to employers in reduced sick pay costs and an overall rise in economic output of £150 million per year. 

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