'Fit note' can optimise work options
While the 'fit note' model can benefit employees with physical injuries to maintain workplace relations, working from home can also be an option, says AMA president Dr. Steve Hambleton.PT1M0S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-37vfk 620 349 May 7, 2014
A decades-old Australian workplace tradition, the sick note, looks set to be consigned to history and replaced by the 21st century version; the "fit note".
Australia is taking the first steps towards following the UK with a certificate for sick or injured workers that tells bosses what their employees can do, instead of what they can't.
Health expert and doctor Dame Carol Black led the transition in Britain and is in Australia this week to spruik the health benefits of work and to warn against the harm caused by the traditional approach of simply sending sick employees home and waiting for them to get better.
Â UK version of the GP fitnote Photo: Contributed
The Dame is no fan of the sick note currently used by Australian general practitioners and which has not changed much in generations.
While GPs might think they are helping their patients by giving them time off work, the Dame believes that in many cases, they are actually hurting.
"I think it's a very unhelpful concept because if somebody labels you as sick, you emotionally and mentally start to think of yourself as sick,'' Dame Carol said.
A portrait of Dame Carol Black who is in Canberra briefing top public servants about her initiative encouraging the health benefits of work. Photo: Rohan Thomson
"Many of the reasons that we don't go to work is because we do have problems and we do have worries that are perfectly containable and we can deal with them.
"So I'd rather we looked at what people can do rather than what they can’t do."
That's where the fit note comes in.
The UK's certificate gives a GP options to nominate a patient for a phased return to work, different hours, a get-well program or changes to the workplace environment, none of which is currently available to Australian doctors.
Dame Carol was in Canberra on Tuesday as a guest of federal government workplace insurer Comcare and talking to public service departmental bosses, who see more than their share of sick notes, about the Health Benefits of Work scheme.
The program is understood to have won the support of Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews and Employment Minister Eric Abetz and an educational program will soon be trialled by hundreds of GPs in and around Canberra.
The long-term goal is to follow the UK's lead on the fit note.
Dame Carol says that patients, doctors and employers in the capital and employers are in for an education.
"GPs have to learn a new language and to think differently," she said.
"Because in the past we didn't know much about occupational health or the value of work, it's been a bit easy to sign the certificate without realising that if you sign a lot of those, people will leave the workplace.
"But we know now that people who are not in work are not as well mentally, are not as well physically and some of the results show that they die earlier."