Fit for work notes instead of sick certificates – will we join the madness?


In the UK, the common ‘Sick notes’ (sick certificates) have apparently been superseded by “fit notes”, and the, ahum, health expert – Dame Carol Black –  behind this – ah- revolution was recently in Australia to promote the health benefits for our  injured/ill workers.

The UK director of Work and Health, Dame Carol Black, who, most interestingly has been flown across by Comcare to discuss the health benefits of  the Work(cover) scheme, stated she believes the tradition of doctors issuing patients (including severely injured sods) with sick notes, to give them time off work, can foster a person’s sickness mentality. Goodness me!

That’s why this apparent uninjured ‘Dame’ prefers fit notes, a scheme that is being (or has been) introduced in the UK andwhich enables GPs to, ahum, advise a patient’s boss as to what the injured or ill worker can do, rather than what they can’t do, in order “to ensure they aren’t deprived of the health benefits of work”.[LOL-sorry]

There are various options, for example the GP can nominate the injured or ill worker for a phased or graduated return to work, alternative hours, a “get-well program” or changes to the workplace environment.

It has been rumored that an “educational program” will soon be trialled in Canberra, by hundreds of GPs.

Anyway, what struck me as most bizarre in this ‘news’ was that this ‘Dame’ may not actually be the brightest bulb on this planet, for if she had actually taken a minute to look at our (new) certificates of ‘capacity’, she would have quickly noticed that they are written in such a way that the GP has no option but to think of what the injured or ill worker can do rather than not do. For example read our article: new Certificate of Capacity in NSW. (and some related articles about our rather stringent certificates of CAPACITY).

Just my 2 cents worth!

Fit note could replace doctor certificate

A decades-old Australian workplace tradition, the sick note, looks set to be consigned to history and replaced by the 21st century version; the “fit note”, reported the SMH.

Australia is taking the first steps towards following the UK with a certificate for sick or injured workers that tells bosses what their employees can do, instead of what they can’t.

Health expert and doctor Dame Carol Black led the transition in Britain and is in Australia this week to spruik the health benefits of work and to warn against the harm caused by the traditional approach of simply sending sick employees home and waiting for them to get better.
 UK version of the GP fitnote

 UK version of the GP fitnote Photo: Contributed

The Dame is no fan of the sick note currently used by Australian general practitioners and which has not changed much in generations.

While GPs might think they are helping their patients by giving them time off work, the Dame believes that in many cases, they are actually hurting.

“I think it’s a very unhelpful concept because if somebody labels you as sick, you emotionally and mentally start to think of yourself as sick,” Dame Carol said.
A portrait of Dame Carol Black who is in Canberra briefing top public servants about her initiative encouraging the health benefits of work.

A portrait of Dame Carol Black who is in Canberra briefing top public servants about her initiative encouraging the health benefits of work. Photo: Rohan Thomson

“Many of the reasons that we don’t go to work is because we do have problems and we do have worries that are perfectly containable and we can deal with them.

“So I’d rather we looked at what people can do rather than what they can’t do.”

That’s where the fit note comes in.

The UK’s certificate gives a GP options to nominate a patient for a phased return to work, different hours, a get-well program or changes to the workplace environment, none of which is currently available to Australian doctors.

Dame Carol was in Canberra on Tuesday as a guest of federal government workplace insurer Comcare and talking to public service departmental bosses, who see more than their share of sick notes, about the Health Benefits of Work scheme.

The program is understood to have won the support of Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews and Employment Minister Eric Abetz and an educational program will soon be trialled by hundreds of GPs in and around Canberra.

The long-term goal is to follow the UK’s lead on the fit note.

Dame Carol says that patients, doctors and employers in the capital and employers are in for an education.

“GPs have to learn a new language and to think differently,” she said.

“Because in the past we didn’t know much about occupational health or the value of work, it’s been a bit easy to sign the certificate without realising that if you sign a lot of those, people will leave the workplace.

“But we know now that people who are not in work are not as well mentally, are not as well physically and some of the results show that they die earlier.”