The government introduced the Statement of Fitness for Work or ‘fit note’ in April 2010, to replace the previous medical statement (known as the ‘sick note’). This was intended to help more people return to work from sickness absence as soon as they are able to. The fit note has the option to record that an individual ‘may be fit for work’ and to indicate basic adjustments or adaptations that could aid return to work.
As part of the fit note evaluation programme, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to carry out the Fit Note Survey to examine individuals’ experience of and the perceived impact of the fit note. The survey ran for six months between January and June 2012, using a sample of 1,398 eligible adults who consented to be interviewed. The purpose of the survey was to build our knowledge on how the fit note has been used in practice since its introduction in 2010, to help strengthen the wider evidence base on sickness certification.
This report explores characteristics of the employed, their last period of sickness absence from work that was covered by a fit note. It looks at the characteristics of individuals most likely to receive a fit note, the discussion and advice given by GPs when issuing fit notes including whether work was discussed, the roles that employers played before and after being given a fit note and individuals’ perceptions of the fit note and perceived impact on their return to work.
A DWP research report to be published on the same day as this report concludes the fit note evaluation programme. The “quantitative survey of fit notes” was conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies and the University of Liverpool. 1 It looks at data from 58,695 fit notes distributed to 25,000 patients in 49 GP practices over a 12-month period between October 2011 and January 2013.
A repeat survey on GPs’ attitudes towards patients’ health and work was published in April 2013. Many of the findings of the 2012 survey re-iterated those of the baseline survey conducted in 2010. Generally, GPs see themselves as having an important role in promoting the health benefits of work and fit notes increasingly help them to fulfil this role ( Hann, M and Sibbald, B (2013). General Practitioners’ attitudes to patients’ health and work, 2010-2012.
This research programme has informed our understanding of sickness absence and will help in the design of the new health and work assessment and advisory service (which will provide expert help to people on sickness absence). It has also contributed to the revised fit note guidance for GPs, employers and patients published in March 2013.