The government’s flagship ‘fit note’ scheme for getting people back into work has failed to deliver five years on from implementation, seriously hampering the UK’s attempts to improve its sickness-absence performance and reduce unnecessary absence.

From a survey of 345 companies by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Jelf Employee Benefits, the findings show that the situation has failed to improve, and is far from aiding economic growth and productivity.

According to EEF, only around 5,000 GPs have been trained in health and work from a pool of 40,584 (September 2014 census). Only a small sum has been spent on GP training compared to the £170 million the government is investing in the new ‘Fit for Work’ service over five years.

EEF is now urging the government to set a fixed date by which all GPs and medical professionals will be trained in the use of the ‘fit note’.

Commenting EEF head of health & safety, Terry Woolmer, says:

“We have supported the ‘fit note’ since day one and wanted it to succeed. However, the evidence is now clear five years on that it’s not delivering on helping people back to work earlier. In fact, the evidence suggests that the quality of advice being given by GPs to help people back to work is deteriorating.

“It can still be made to work but government now needs to put its shoulder to the wheel with greater resources. The first step must be to ensure that all GPs and hospital doctors are trained in health & work issues so they feel confident in giving proper advice. Without this as a basis there is little prospect of the ‘fit note’ ever delivering genuine improvement in return-to-work performance and absence reduction.”

The survey revealed that 42 percent of companies feel the ‘fit note’ is not helping employees return to work, up from 35 percent in 2010. Only 22 percent (24% in 2010) say that it has resulted in earlier returns to work.

47 percent of companies disagree that the advice given by GPs about employees fitness for work in 2014 has improved, compared with 17 percent of those who agree.

In addition to greater resources for GP training and a fixed date for GPs and medical professionals to be trained in the ‘fit note’, EEF is calling for a step up in efforts to create greater interaction between GPs, employers and employees.