A wider range of healthcare professionals are now allowed to sign people off work in a bid to help free up the time of GPs.

Under new reforms, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists now have the authority to issue a sick note, rather than just family doctors.

However, these professionals are only allowed to certify a sick note if they work in a GP surgery or a hospital. For example, pharmacists working on the high street are unable to sign people off work.

The changes are now active in England, Wales and Scotland, and Northern Ireland is expected to make these reforms soon.

The minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith said: “Having a health condition doesn’t have to take you out of a job.

“This change will make it easier for people and employers to get the advice they need so people can stay in work, whilst also reducing bureaucracy and freeing up doctors’ time.”

She added: “Too often we see people being faced with unnecessary challenges to get a fit note. More professionals being able to offer this vital service will speed up the process and support people to return to or remain in work.”

Over the past year, around 10 million sick notes were certified by a GP. The law around sick notes has changed so that GPs can focus their attention on more important issues rather than signing people off work.

According to millions of GPs, administrative jobs such as issuing sick notes increases their workload and prevents them treating people in vital need of their help.

Sajid Javid, former Health Secretary, said: “Slashing unnecessary bureaucracy is key to ensuring more patients can see their GP quickly and get the care they need as we bust the COVID backlogs.

“That’s why we have introduced these powers to ensure certifying fit notes can be carried out by other healthcare professionals – helping to relieve pressures on GPs so they can focus on patients and deliver an extra 50 million appointments a year by 2024.”

The Royal College of Nursing’s head of nursing practice, Wendy Preston added: “This is a positive step.

“Nursing staff are often the first people patients see, particularly in primary care, and especially for those living with a long-term condition who may need time off to manage their condition at times.”

She concluded: “This will allow them to better serve the needs of their patients and reduce the need for further unnecessary appointments with other healthcare professionals.

“Nurses have the skills and knowledge to make challenging decisions and must not feel pressured to sign a fit note, much the same as our medical colleagues.”

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