Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Why Nova Scotia should look to the U.K. for its sick-note policies

A Halifax health-care consultant says there needs to be a culture shift around the use of sick notes in Nova Scotia, and a good model can already be found in the United Kingdom.

'We might actually see a huge spike in employee morale,' says health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton

In the U.K., sick notes aren't needed for absences less than seven days. (CBC)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" - ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

A Halifax health-care consultant says there needs to be a culture shift around the use of sick notes in Nova Scotia, and a good model can already be found in the United Kingdom.

"Doctors notes for explaining absenteeism is an absolute waste of time, and it's a waste of not only the patient's time, but the doctor's time," Mary Jane Hampton told CBC's Information Morning.

Her view matches that of Dr. Gary Ernest, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, who recently said they're a waste of time for minor illnesses.

"What offends me about sick notes is that, really, they are companies using the publicly funded health-care system and the precious resource of doctors to manage absenteeism for them, or to police their employees," said Hampton.

Mary Jane Hampton is a Halifax health-care consultant. (Robert Short/CBC)

While people may have no way of avoiding getting sick notes, Hampton said there's an opportunity to better manage limited health resources.

"It's a hack about how we can sometimes do things to reduce demand on the health-care system by not using it for things that have nothing to do with making people better," she said.

What the U.K. health-care system does

Hampton pointed to the United Kingdom's National Health Service, where sick notes aren't required for absences less than seven consecutive days.

"The interesting twist is, you're not required to get a sick note to confirm that you had something that caused you to stay away from work. You need the sick note to confirm that you're fit to come back, which is a really profound culture shift and changes the narrative completely," she said.

The return-to-work doc is known as a fit note.

Hampton said the U.K. model flips the paradigm, creating a more supportive employer/employee relationship.

"It says that the sick note isn't to monitor employees to verify that they actually had the sniffles. It's rather a tool for going forward to say, 'This is the help that I need to make sure that I continue getting better,'" she said.

Hampton says Nova Scotia companies that currently require sick notes should review their policy. (Thawornnurak/Shutterstock)

Other companies have progressive policies that allow employees to draw from a bank of personal days over the course of the year. If the employee needs more, they can have that conversation with a supervisor.

"Again, it takes the doctor out of the picture in trying to help manage absenteeism," said Hampton.

She said Nova Scotia companies that currently require sick notes should review their policy, thinking through the logic of what they're asking employees to do.

"We might actually see a huge spike in employee morale, with their employers and supervisors saying, 'You know what, we trust you, and if you are sick, we want to help you get better,'" said Hampton.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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