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Gender has impact on GP sicknote decision

Male GPs are more sympathetic to their own gender than female GPs are when it comes to giving out sicknotes, research suggests.

A study of almost 4,000 patients found male GPs were 64 per cent more likely to sign off a male patient for medium-term absence than women GPs were to sign off a female patient.

The research, published in Family Practice, found the trend was even more pronounced in cases where men presented to a male GP with a mild men-tal disorder such as stress or anxiety.

The findings were significant even when controlling for other patient factors, such as age, diagnosis and deprivation.

The quantitative study, which included 67 GPs at nine surgeries, concluded that male GPs may assume that male patients have relatively greater problems because they have made the decision to consult.

Male patients may also be 'more demanding, or better negotiators, when facing a male GP', it said.

A reason offered for the pronounced finding with mild mental disorders was a potential link with the way men presented their problem to a male GP, making diagnosis more difficult.

Alternatively, female GPs may have skills more attuned to dealing with psychological problems presented by patients, the authors concluded.

Author Dr Mark Gabbay, a GP in Liverpool, said the stage at which men and women presented to their GP could have had an impact on the results, as could whether patients had chosen to see a particular GP.

He said: 'We need to be aware of whether we are letting our gender impact on what we say and what we hear.'

GPs said they were surprised at the findings and that more research was needed into how gender affected GPs' behaviour.

Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire, said: 'It surprises me that there is the difference between male and female GPs. GPs know their patients well and try to assess each case on an individual basis.'

Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, a GP in Marple, Cheshire, said: 'This warrants further research, particularly in light of the Government's drive to address sickness certification by GPs.'

She added: 'It would be interesting to find out if Merseyside is typical.'

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