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20-11-2011 | General practice | Article

Sickness sign-off by GPs may stop

Abstract

Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence

GPs will no longer be able to sign off patients for long-term sickness absence from work, in proposals outlined in a government-backed review.

Under the recommendations, published today by the Department for Work and Pensions, GPs will still provide "fit notes" for absences of up to 4 weeks, but for longer periods they will need to refer patients to independent assessors.

The review also recommends the introduction of a new "job brokering service" to help those people deemed fit to work but not in their current job to find suitable alternative employment.

In addition, patients signed off sick after independent assessment will initially be placed on Jobseeker's Allowance, rather than going directly on to Employment and Support Allowance.

David Frost, former Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce, who co-authored the review, said: "Evidence clearly shows that the longer you are out of work the harder it becomes to get back in."

The report's other author Dame Carol Black, the National Director for Health and Work, told the BBC: "What the GPs say is they don't have time to do an in-depth functional assessment and nor have they had any training in occupational health so we think it's providing a new unique service that both employers and GPs need."

Deputy Chair of the BMA GPs Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said: "If what is being described is a proper health, occupational health assessment at an earlier stage in the patient's illness then that would be helpful.

"But if it turns out to be a punitive process just to try and save money without the best interests of the patient at the heart of the process then it will fail."

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Caroline Price