Employers sceptical of Government's Fit Notes initiative

Article date: 15 March 2010

  • Just 5% of employers claim Fit Notes would reduce absence rates
  • 57% of employees don’t think that their doctor is qualified to judge them fit for work1.

The business benefits of the Government’s new “Fit Notes” scheme is being called into question by a new 360 degree study of UK businesses and their employees. The “early intervention prevention” study by Aviva UK Health shows that business owners and workers are dubious about how Fit Notes will be brought into effect in April 2010, and question the initiative’s power to reduce employee absence rates and get employees back to work sooner.

The launch of the new Fit Note means that instead of giving patients a sick note saying they are too ill to work, GPs will have to decide whether a person may be fit for work with some support, and what employers can do to help them return. This includes a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adaptations.

The initiative is designed to encourage employers to be more responsible regarding employee rehabilitation. It aims to help reduce the impact long term sick leave has on UK businesses, which is estimated to cost the UK economy £17.3 billion2. However, Aviva’s  research indicates that both employers and their workforce currently remain to be convinced of the benefits of Fit Notes.

Among the 500 employers questioned, just 5% said they thought Fit Notes would reduce absence rates. One in 10 thought they would be hard to administer and 68% had little or no knowledge of the change and how it would work for them. On the employee side, the majority of the 1,000 respondents (57%) did not think their doctor was in a position to say if they are fit enough to work1.  This is a view shared by GPs with nearly two thirds (64%) feeling ill-equipped to provide Fit Notes for the UK workforce. A further 15% were non-committal3.  

Aviva’s early intervention prevention study suggests that there is a major communications issue to address before Fit Notes can begin to have a positive impact on absence rates. Success of the scheme hinges on GPs being prepared to comment on the functional impairment that their patient has, as well as employers being flexible to adapt the role or the workplace in the short-term. However, the study suggests there is little evidence that this is currently the case.

The research also indicates that employees who don’t have a full understanding of the process may feel Fit Notes could be used to get them back to work too early or even as grounds for dismissal. If left unchecked, this could foster a culture of suspicion or lead to an increase in workplace presenteeism.

Dr Hugh Laing, chief medical officer for Aviva UK Health and a practising GP, comments: “Any move on behalf of the Government to get people back into the workplace is commendable. However, we are concerned by the apparent lack of awareness of Fit Notes among employers and their workforce.

"The move from sick notes represents a big change for businesses and will take time to embed. What’s more, we will only reap the long term benefits of this move if the right support and training is in place. Whilst Fit Notes will encourage employers to act more responsibly towards employee rehabilitation and perhaps more importantly help prevent ill-health in the first place, the initiative doesn’t give them the tools or knowledge to do so.

”Employers are often well placed to spot the warning signs in an employee before they go off sick. They therefore have a vital role to play in the success of Fit Notes, so it’s important they are given the appropriate training to enable them to do this. They also need to have access to expert rehabilitation support. This is where providers such as Aviva can help through their broad experience of occupational health, group income protection and private medical insurance. 

“When it comes to making Fit Notes work in practice, the Government is missing an important trick by ignoring the important role group income protection and occupational health services could play in the success of Fit Notes.

"Currently occupational health practitioners are the missing piece of the jigsaw but could perform a potentially crucial support role in bridging the knowledge gap between employers, HR, managers, GPs and workers. Without this engagement, the introduction of Fit Notes may cause more problems than it solves.”


For further information contact:
Amber Chable, PR and Communications Manager, Aviva UK Health
Telephone: 023 80359 383        
E-mail: amber.chable@aviva.co.uk

Notes to editors:

1 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Lightspeed Research. Total sample size was 500 employers and 1,000 employees. Fieldwork was undertaken in January 2010. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted.

2 CIPD Absence Survey 2009.

3 Aviva Health of the Workplace 3 Research, April 2009.

Health and Wellbeing from Aviva
Established in 1990 as the healthcare arm of Norwich Union, Norwich Union Healthcare was re-branded to Aviva in 2009. We provide a range of private medical insurance, income protection, occupational health and group life products and services that cover over 2,400,000 lives. We are one of the largest providers of income protection, group life and private medical insurance in the UK.

Aviva’s group income protection focuses on minimising staff absence and getting employees back to work promptly through innovative use of vocational rehabilitation techniques available through its occupational health and specialist healthcare teams, as well as external specialist rehabilitation services. It also provides invaluable financial support for employers in the event of staff absence helping to ensure business continuity. Aviva also offers Income Protection Solutions for individual customers. 

Norwich Union Occupational Health, a sister company of Norwich Union Healthcare, was also re-branded to Aviva in 2009. Occupational Health provides occupational health solutions and services to a wide range of industry sectors. By utilising their large fleet of purpose built mobile clinics and approved medical centres, staffed by a team of experienced occupational physicians and nursing staff, the services are designed to meet the individual needs of clients.

Aviva Health UK Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority and is a member of the Association of British Insurers and the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Aviva’s news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva’s internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media.

About Aviva
Aviva, the international savings, investments and insurance group, is the world’s fifth largest insurance group, serving 53 million customers across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

In the UK, Aviva is a leading provider of life, pensions, investment, general insurance and health products to more than 20 million customers. Aviva also provides roadside assistance through RAC. Products are distributed through a number of channels including IFAs, brokers, corporate partners and direct to customers via the internet.

Aviva's UK Insurance business has a market share of around 15%, making it the largest general insurer in the UK. The business is focused on insurance for individuals and small businesses.

Aviva's life and pensions business in the UK has a total market share of 12% and a top three position in its key markets of savings, protection, and annuities.

Aviva’s news releases and a selection of images are available from the internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media.

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