Parliamentary Question: fit notes, phased returns to work and how M.E. fits in the scheme of things, 13 December 2011

Tony Baldrey (Conservative MP for Banbury) tabled a written question that asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment had been made of the effectiveness of fit notes in assisting people to make a phased return to work.

In his answer on 13 December 2011, Employment Minister Chris Grayling replied:

The Department has a programme of work to evaluate the statement of fitness for work or fit notes. Independent research carried out for the Department published earlier in the year found that 70% of GPs agreed that the fit note had helped their patients make a phased return to work.

A separate piece of research involving in-depth interviews with 45 GPs from different locations and practice sizes conducted for the Department found many GPs believe that patients with conditions that are compatible with phased returns can return to work sooner than they could have done under the previous certification system. Conditions that they found to be highly compatible with phased returns included myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME (often referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome), common mental health conditions and musculoskeletal problems. Phased return, for example two or three days a week, can be used to build patient confidence and eventually enable a full return leading to positive health outcomes for these patients through having the opportunity to work. Some GPs did note, however, that they perceived that smaller companies may be limited in the number of alternative roles that they can offer employees during the course of a phased return.

The Department will continue to examine the effectiveness of fit notes in assisting people to make a phased return to work through:

• in-depth interviews with employers and employees (to be published early next year);

• a representative survey of employees (to be published at the end of next year); and

• a comparative study of fit and sick notes (to be published in 2013).

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