The announcement reflects a success for industry organizations such as the EEF and CBI who have campaigned for the introduction of such a scheme.
Katja Hall, CBI head of employment & employee relations, said: "Sick notes are outdated, inflexible, and in need of an overhaul. They focus on symptoms instead of consequences, and sign patients off for rigid and often arbitrary stretches of time.”
Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF"s chief medical adviser, emphasised: "We need a culture change so that people recognise that work is actually good for you. Too often there is an emphasis on what the employee cannot do rather than what they can do and this system should help us tackle sickness absence in a positive manner by enabling employees to return in a role that suits both the employer and employee.
"The burden felt by many doctors relating to sick notes may also be improved with a drive to use a new more user-friendly system as a means of better communication between employer, employee and GP.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues the “well note” will encourage GPs to offer fitness to work advice to patients and employers as part of the Government's plans to reduce the 2.64 million on incapacity benefit.
Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: “GPs are letting down patients signed off work with mental health problems by not communicating effectively with employers. All the evidence shows that a phased return to work can play a beneficial role in the recovery of people suffering with this kind of illness. Work has a huge part to play in the early treatment and rehabilitation of people experiencing mental ill health. Employers are willing to do their bit, but they need support and better communication from GPs to facilitate appropriately phased returns to work.
“We welcome the announcement from the Department for Work and Pensions that GPs are to be required to provide better advice to employers and patients on return to work options. Our research shows widespread employer support for measures that would make a real difference. If government wants to achieve its objectives on welfare reform, it must act to ensure GPs are fully aware of the crucial role they have to play in working with employers to prevent people slipping in to long-term sickness absence.
“All too often the reality today is a quickly scribbled note signing someone off for another period of weeks. This can contribute to long-term sickness absence, and often to extended periods on incapacity benefits.”
According to EEF"s 2007 Sickness Absence survey, the main barriers to rehabilitation were employee resistance, the role of GPs in the sickness absence process, limited access to fast NHS services and, waiting for a sick note to expire. Companies were also asked about the possibility of changes being made to the current one-week rule for GP certification of absence with 98.8% of employers against self-certification for absence exceeding one week.