77% of GPs pressured to sign false sick notes

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GP

Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions have revealed that 77.4% of GPs say they feel 'obliged' to give sick notes for non-medical reasons. The study was part of the DWP's efforts to get people back into work.

So are GP's deliberately thwarting these efforts?

The study

Certainly GPs' willingness to sign sick notes for 'non medical' reasons, is not going to help bring down the number of days lost to sickness absence in the UK. Currently 131 million days are lost to sickness every year. According to the CIPD, the average cost of absence is £673 per employee, per year.

However, the study didn't blame GPs. Instead it concluded that most were keen to help patients return to work, and recognised that they didn't have to be entirely symptom-free in order to be fit for work. It did not see GPs as standing in the way of successfully returning people to work.

Why?

Rather than willfully keeping people from their desks, GPs are driven to this by the fact that most people have to provide their employer with a note from their doctor if they are away from work for seven days.

In some instances, they may be absent because they are caring for a close family member who is sick, or they may be suffering from personal problems that mean they cannot work. In many instances they go to the surgery requesting a sick note, when the reason for their absence is far more complicated.

Initiatives

The government has launched a host of initiatives in order to cut the number of sick days taken in the UK. The Fit for Work scheme, for example, offers free occupational health services, and helps manage people's return to work after they have been off sick for a long time.

In this year's Budget, George Osborne said the government would consult on the possibility of offering companies tax relief on third-party occupational health services, to encourage them to provide more assistance to employees who could be ready to return to work.

However, for this to be successful, employers need to tackle the reasons for absence that are currently classed as sickness, which are actually due to something else.

Non-medical absence

One option would be to clamp down on it entirely - sending out a company doctor so individuals have to prove to them that they are unwell. However, everyone has periods in their life where their personal life is more important than their career, so this approach could risk losing the best and most productive employees.

A more enlightened approach may mean offering access to counselling services, offering emergency childcare, or flexibility over hours if an individual needs to temporarily prioritise their home life. If the reasons for absence are not medical - then the solutions need to be more far-ranging too.

But what do you think? Should employers help, and will they? Or can we simply expect harsher measures for people seen to be manipulating sickness absence for other reasons.