Britons will be able to use NHS algorithm to sign themselves off sick as part of 'sick notes' system overhaul

Britons will be able to use NHS algorithm to sign themselves off sick as part of 'sick notes' system overhaul
WATCH: Rishi Sunak reveals plans to tackle 'sick note culture'
GB News
George Bunn

By George Bunn

Published: 23/04/2024

- 15:26

The scheme is targeting minor illnesses allowing doctors time to care for the long-term sick

People with "minor illnesses" will be able to sign themselves off as sick as part of a major system overhaul.

Ministers want to test an automated online triage scheme that sends people with complex needs for intensive support but allows those with simple infections to get a few days off without the need to see a doctor.

It comes as Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the Government wanted to change a "sick note" culture to a "fit note" system where people were encouraged to work.

Sick notes were officially renamed "fit notes" in 2010 as part of an attempt to stop so many being signed off work, but PM Rishi Sunak said this had failed as numbers issued each year rose to 11 million, double the figure in 2015.

Rishi Sunak, NHS sign

Sunak announced welfare reforms last week


One model due to be tested is an online triage system where people use a website or app as their first port of call for a sick note, reports The Times. After answering questions about their symptoms, an algorithm would send those with treatment needs to a work and health service.

The automated system will be tested as part of pilots to determine whether taking responsibility for fit notes away from GPs and giving it to a dedicated health and work service would result in fewer people being signed off unfit for work.

Atkins told Sky News: "I’m looking into how we can change the conversation from getting a sick note to getting a fit note. So, changing this emphasis that somehow musculoskeletal conditions, for example, which is a very common reason for people being signed off sick, that that means that you can’t do any work whatsoever.

"Because we know not only does work have financial benefits for us, it also is important for our wellbeing, it can help with our mental health, it can help with recovery. There’s a huge amount of work that Mel Stride is doing in the Department for Work and Pensions on this but, as Health Secretary, I really want to help him."


Rishi Sunak

Sunak announced the policy of welfare reforms last week


Chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs Kamila Hawthorne said: "It’s vital that if responsibility for issuing fit notes is diverted elsewhere, then this remains the priority for anyone involved in assessing someone’s ability to work — and that they are trained accordingly, with safeguards in place to ensure appropriate decisions are being made.

"The same goes for the programming of algorithms."

Meanwhile doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) said fit notes were carefully considered before they are written and criticised the Prime Minister's "hostile rhetoric" on the issue.

Doctors used to be the only healthcare professionals able to sign a sick note. However, in 2022, this was widened to include nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists.

Separately on Sunday, Sunak was criticised after confirming that he would stick with a policy which limits universal credit payments to a family’s first two children.

He wrote in The Sun on Sunday: "Working families do not see their incomes rise when they have more children. Families on benefits should be asked to make the same financial decisions as those supporting themselves solely through work,”

Alison Garnham from the Child Poverty Action Group accused Sunak of having "decided that making kids poor is his political priority."

You may like