With nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists and physios now able to sign off fit notes under new legislation, Health Education England (HEE) has promised to offer training to support the policy change.
From 1 July, these healthcare professionals in England, Scotland and Wales are able to legally certify fit notes, in a move designed to ease pressure on GPs, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said, with doctors the only professionals able to do it until now.
HEE has now confirmed that training will be made available to these professions through HEE elearning for healthcare (HEE elfh), in partnership with the DWP.
HEE also said it has ‘developed guidance to support all healthcare professionals issuing fit notes to feel confident and able to do so appropriately.’ Guidance documents for the change in policy will be made through the gov.uk website, it said.
The move ‘will make it quicker and simpler for patients needing to certify time off work for illness or injury, as well as helping to reduce the burden on doctors who currently issue fit notes,’ said HEE.
Matthew McClelland, executive director of strategy and insight at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), called extending the legal power to certify fit notes to registered nurses ‘encouraging’, saying it is ‘another step towards a more multi-disciplinary workforce’.
He said it ‘recognises the important role highly-skilled nursing professionals have in delivering person-centred care, offering health and care advice, and supporting people to stay in work where their health allows’.
Mr McClelland is encouraging those nurses who will certify fit notes to ask their employers for support, reminding them that ‘nursing professionals should always make decisions to certify fit notes safely and effectively in line with [NMC’s] standards and the Code.’
By certifying fit notes, ‘nurses will support more people to have better conversations with their employer about their health and work’, the NMC said, in terms of how their health impacts their role, asking for reasonable adjustments and providing evidence if they’re not fit for work, for example.
‘While this change applies to nursing professionals working across the UK, not all registered nurses will have to certify fit notes,’ the regulator explained.
‘Nurses should discuss this new role with their employer in the first instance, and ensure they have the necessary support and relevant training before they start to certify fit notes.’
It is the biggest change to the rules around fit notes since they were introduced in 2010, and part of a planned overhaul of reforms that has included scrapping ink only signatures and providing more ‘interactive’ advice on workplace adaptations and support.
Mark Radford, deputy CEO and chief nurse at HEE, said: ‘We welcome this change in the law and also the opportunity to develop services more flexibly and build on the skills of expert nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
‘HEE has been leading with other nations to allow these changes to be made across the United Kingdom and make the training easily accessible to staff who wish to develop these new skills.’
Christian Brailsford, regional head of nursing for the south west at HEE, added: ‘Enabling nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists to certify fit notes offers benefits for patients and the healthcare system and better recognises innovations in using a multi-disciplinary workforce to support patients.
‘These healthcare professionals can engage more directly with patients on matters of work and health without having to re-route requests to certify fit notes through doctors.’