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New 28-day self-certification period aims to reduce GP workload

The government have made temporary changes to the issuing of ‘fit notes’ in the hope that it will help reduce the burden on GPs.

When employees go off sick on or after 10th December, employers cannot ask for a sick note from a GP until the employee has been off for 28 days. This is starkly different to the usual 7 days. This is currently set to end with sickness needing to start before or on the 26th January, but an end date is not stated on gov.uk and it has been said that this period could be extended.

Although of course practices are grateful for any changes that are helping to ease their current burden, questions have been asked about whether this measure is enough and what else may be coming to further support primary care.

During 2020, the number of fit notes issued by GPs dropped by 12.5% due to vulnerable employees shielding, an increase in working from home, increased periods of self-isolation and of course furlough. The number of fit notes however, rose significantly once the country started to open up again with a 41.3% increase vs the previous year (NHS Digital).  With the rollout of the booster vaccinations and cases of Omicron on the rise, reducing the need for people to make contact with their GP is helpful.

There have been some criticisms for the temporary measures, with many HR professionals stating that sick pay is, in the main, now paid by employers rather than the state, so visiting a GP shouldn’t be necessary. There is also concern as to whether employees may try to take advantage of these measures, especially as it is over the festive period, as not needing a medical professional to sign off sickness may increase the length of some absences. Lastly, this temporary change has happened with very little media coverage and those not following legislation closely may have missed it, meaning the impact may be far smaller than it could have been, if it had been publicised a little more.

Overall, although it may only be a small temporary measure, it is positive that the government are actively trying to ease the burden on primary care and all small changes are welcome, but it is by far not enough in itself to make the difference that is needed. Let’s hope this is the start of more change to come.

If you’re an FPM member and would like any support with sickness in your practice, contact Samantha on the HR Helpline now on hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk

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