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What, no ‘self-employed’ box?

Part of an online form asking for employment status

Can you spot the omission?

THE Freelance's own deputy editor was directed by their GP to fill in a self-referral form requesting they be contacted about possible physiotherapy. This came from the Whittington NHS Trust, which covers North London, particularly Islington and Haringey.

So far, so good. But there was an issue with the form when it came to the question about employment status.

There was no "self-employed" box to tick. There wasn't even an "other" box. There was just an "employed" box and other status such as "unemployed", "retired" or "student".

There was a "give details" free text box underneath the incomplete list of employment statuses. But on filling in "self-employed" in the free text in this field, the form still wouldn't let itself be submitted, as one of the required employment status boxes hadn't been filled in. Bold lettering in red appeared, warning of issues preventing the form from being submitted.

This patient was left with no choice but to pretend they were an employee in order to complete and submit their form requesting a referral to physio.

Any why did the physiotherapy referral service need to whether I was employed or self-employed anyway? A polite but strongly-worded email, signed "Matt Salusbury, Chair, NUJ London Freelance Branch" was quickly on its way to Whittington NHS Trust.

A reply came in one hour and 26 minutes - very impressive especially given the workload currently facing the NHS - from Emma James, their Musculo-Skeletal Service Manager. She had already copied in their Patient Advice Liaison Service Manager, asking them to get on it.

The reply read: "Thank you for your email and comments regarding our self-referral form, always useful to have such feedback. I will review this with our IT team and ask that they amend the form to have an option of 'other' - I agree that this should have been there."

The NHS Trust whose form it is promised they were on it. While the form hadn't changed 20 days later, you can now expect it to shortly read "other" with the option to fill in "self-employed" in the free text field. Hurrah! Result!

The Freelance will be checking back to see if the proposed amendments to the form are implemented. Yes, we will follow up if it's still needed.

Why do the NHS Trust need to know whether you're employed or "other", then? "This helps us to triage the urgency of the referral correctly, for example if someone is unable to work or be a carer due to their MSK complaint the referral is triaged more urgently. It also helps us to understand if your condition might be impacted by your occupation."

Have any Freelance readers encountered forms they need to fill in, for which the self-employed and freelances are effectively non-persons? We're especially interested in forms that you can't complete if you don't lie and tell them you're employed, or something.

We encourage you to give feedback to whoever it is that put such a form together, demanding that they take note of the UK's several million self-employed. Let the Freelance know how you get on if you do so. Please do contact an officer of the Branch Committee if you feel their title after their name at the end will give more impact to an email about non-recognition of us freelance folk.