Concerns have been raised that 'pharmacists working in GP practices are being asked to batch sign fit notes' before new legislation legally permitting them to do so comes into play next month. 

Pharmacists, nurses, occupational therapists and physios in England, Scotland and Wales will be able to sign off fit notes under new legislation from 1 July, in a move designed to ease pressure on GPs, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said. 

But the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) said it is 'already aware of pharmacists working in GP practices being asked to batch sign fit notes, ahead of any change in regulations.' 

PDA director Paul Day said: 'The basic issue here, as with all areas of practice, is that professionals need to be trained and competent before they undertake any task, especially when it involves patients.' 

He warned that getting a decision wrong about whether someone is fit to work, and what might facilitate them safely returning before fully recovered, could have 'significant consequences,' so it is 'critical these decisions are made correctly.' 

Mr Day said: 'The consequences of somebody returning to work when they are not really fit to do so could have a range of implications not just for the patient, but others too, all depending on what that job is. 

'Conversely there may be implications for a patient’s finances and their employment if they are unable to return to work when they could have done so.' 

The PDA said it has 'long called for a more joined-up and multi-disciplinary approach to the delivery of healthcare,' but with this change introduced in 'a very short timeframe,' and with a two-week period between the announcement and the new law coming into effect, 'there are concerns about how this will be effectively and safely implemented.' 

The change to the rules is aimed at pharmacists working within general practices or hospital settings, 'where they are able to assess patients' fitness for work,' the DWP said, and does not extend to community pharmacists. 

The union said it understands Health Education England will be 'designing mandatory training for those who wish to sign fit notes,' and it will be 'seeking urgent clarification' around the rollout of guidance and timescales of when this will be available. 

The PDA said it 'strongly urges' members to consider their levels of experience and knowledge before engaging in a particular job. 'Pharmacy roles in GP practice and elsewhere must be accompanied by proper levels of supervision, access to a peer group for advice and underpinned by a Boundaries of Competency of Practice Statement or equivalent,' it said. 

The GPhC said 'providing fit notes needs to be within the pharmacists’ professional "scope of practice," therefore new guidance and training has been developed which will help professionals identify if this task is suitable for them.' 

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, said that 'whilst pharmacists will have the legal power to certify fit notes, not everybody working as a pharmacist will be able to, or should, issue fit notes.' 

He urged pharmacists who are considering providing a fit note service in the future to 'make sure they are following the relevant legislation and guidance, as well as [GPhC's] standards for pharmacy professionals, at all times.' 

This new legislation is the biggest change to the rules around fit notes since they were introduced in 2010, and part of a planned overhaul of reforms that has included scrapping ink only signatures and providing more ‘interactive’ advice on workplace adaptations and support.

The Government has said it will also move to embed electronic fit notes in hospital systems to encourage hospital doctors to issue them, further reducing the burden on GPs.