Getting people back to productive and fulfilling lives

In the third in our series of pre-election blogs, CSP director of strategy, policy and engagement Rob Yeldham looks at the row over fit notes and how to get people back to work.

(To hear Ash James, CSP practice director, talking about fit notes in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement, click here

by Rob Yeldham

More than 2.8 million people are currently unable to work due to ill health or impairment. While 22 per cent of working-age people were economically inactive in February, according to official figures.

This is a big problem for those who want to work and for an economy short of labour post Brexit. So it isn’t surprising politicians are worried.

It should be no surprise that ill health and impairment are the main reasons for the growth in worklessness given:

  • The long-term impacts of physical and mental health issues during Covid-19 and due to ongoing Long Covid
  • The health impacts of the cost of living crisis
  • Lengthy NHS waiting lists
  • A postcode lottery in accessing rehab
  • Many employers failing to provide occupation health support for their staff.

The Conservative UK government’s response has seemingly been to blame GPs for not assessing people correctly. The Prime Minister’s big idea is to get other expert professionals involved in assessing people and signing off fit notes.

The CSP agrees with Rishi Sunak that we should not right off people with impairments or long-term health conditions. They should be offered personalised advice and rehab to maximise potential.

That seems to be missing from his prescription. Physios are experts in maximising potential in many areas, not least MSK conditions, which are amongst the top causes of lost working days.

The other problem with the Prime Minister’s announcement is that physios, OTs and other specialist clinicians can already sign fit notes, although there is some scope for this to be made easier.

But fit note changes are not the solution on their own.

Unless people can access the NHS treatment they are waiting for, the rehab they need or appropriate occupation health services, changing the fit note system isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

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