Editorial: Time to inject sense into work sick notes

Proposal means certificates can focus on work ability

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Too often, people are given sick notes by their doctors even though they could manage some sort of work.

There are two reasons for this. Doctors are busy people and a quick unequivocal note represents the course of least resistance. Equally, doctors are restricted by patient confidentiality in terms of the information on patients' health they can provide to an employer.

The upshot is an unnecessary cost to the economy in lost working hours.

Changes to how medical certificates are issued are, therefore, sensible.

The Medical Council wants more information to be provided on them. If a patient is fit for some duties, the doctor will make this clear and outline what these duties are.

First Union general secretary Robert Reid has, predictably, interpreted this as a further erosion of worker rights. It is no such thing.

Doctors should focus on what people can do, rather than what they cannot do.

In Britain, this line of thinking has led to sick notes being renamed 'fit notes'.

As is proposed by the Medical Council, doctors can say someone is not fit for work, but can also spell out aspects of jobs that workers could still perform.

The onus is then on employers to help staff return to work in some capacity that may involve, say, working different hours or not putting pressure on an injured back.

The outcome is not only a gain for the economy but a better attitude towards sick leave and work obligations.

- NZ Herald

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