Community pharmacists will not be among those able to issue fit notes, the DWP has confirmed, calling it 'an unsuitable service to be provided over the counter.'

On Thursday ( 9 June), the Government announced that pharmacists, nurses, occupational therapists and physios in England, Scotland and Wales will be able to sign off fit notes from 1 July, under new legislation.

It’s a move designed to ease pressure on GPs, the DWP has said, with doctors currently the only professionals able to do this.

It marks the biggest change to the rules around fit notes since they were introduced in 2010, but it does not extend to community pharmacists.

'The policy change is aimed at pharmacists working within general practices or hospital settings, where they are able to assess patients' fitness for work,' the DWP explained, in response to a call for clarification from The Pharmacist.

The DWP said the intention is that 'where' the fit note is issued will remain the same, but 'who' issues it will change.

The DWP went on to explain that fit notes, known technically as 'Med3,' are 'not part of the NHS commissioned services which private pharmacies provide,' and therefore private providers, such as high street pharmacies, are unable to offer them under NHS provision.

‘Fit notes should only be issued following a full assessment of a patient's fitness for work, therefore would be an unsuitable service to be provided over the counter,’ the DWP concluded.

It added: ‘As whole professions are named in legislation, any registered practicing doctor, nurse, occupational therapist, pharmacist or physiotherapist can legally issue a fit note. However, fit notes are not part of the NHS commissioned services which private pharmacies provide. ‘

RPS President Professor Claire Anderson said the professional body has 'a number of concerns' about the new legislation, including that pharmacists 'already have a significant workload,' so additional roles 'must be properly planned' and 'funded services developed’.

She added that 'it is essential that the public is given clear information about where fit notes can be obtained from and not misled that they can be provided by all pharmacists.'

Maria Caulfield, minister for patient safety and primary care said that improving access to GP services and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy was ‘vitally important as we tackle the Covid backlog’.

‘Extending powers to provide fit notes to other healthcare professions will relieve further pressures on GPs and is another step towards helping to deliver an extra 50 million appointments in general practice a year by 2024.’

This comes after the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) called for pharmacies to have greater powers to share medicines between one another to help manage shortages in May.