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GP sick notes to get overhaul

By Lilian Anekwe

An overhaul of the GP sick note system is set to go ahead as early as next year after research from pilot schemes giving family doctors a far greater responsibility for getting people back to work were hailed as a success.

Two separate pilots, one of an educational programme for GPs on health and work issues and the other placing Jobcentre Plus advisers in practices, are said to have eased GP fears that they are to be used as a political weapon.

The trials, run by the Department of Work and Pensions, follow last months draft guidance from NICE which proposed giving GPs a clinical duty to assess patients' suitability for work.

A leading Government advisor told Pulse they would accelerate moves spearheaded by national director for health and work Dame Carol Black to scrap the existing sick note system.

Instead a new system in which GPs inform a potential employer of the tasks a patient is fit to perform is set to be rolled out next year.

The first pilot reported that 33% of GPs said they felt very or fairly confident about advising on fitness for work before attending to training session, but that this rose to 79% after completing the training.

An evaluation of the trial of use of employment advisers from Jobcentre Plus in GP surgeries, was similarly glowing, concluding ‘[Advisers] being placed in GP surgeries was considered vital to the effectiveness of the service.'

Professor Sayeed Khan, a former GP and a fellow of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, who led the GP training sessions, said: ‘The courses were well received and the level of confidence about fitness to work consultations jumped markedly.

‘There's definitely plans to roll it out further – a number of ministers have told me this month that this is going to be rolled out next year. We're going to have GPs and occupational health physicians delivering this in locations across the country.'

Dr James Heffer, a GP in Bradford-upon-Avon in Wiltshere, said : ‘I welcome it – we're not DWP watchdogs, but we are in a position to offer patients help and advice.'

The Back-to-Work- Drive

Sep 06 – Dame Carol Black appointed national director for work and health
Nov 07 – DH announces £5m funding to treble the number of employment advisers in GP surgeries. Educational programme training GPs on work and health issues also announced
Mar 08 – Dame Carol Black's review recommends the Government scrap traditional sick notes in favour of fit notes
Aug 08 – NICE published draft guidance on how GPs can help patients on long term incapacity benefit back into work

GPs to get more responsibility for assessing fitness to work as part of an overhaul of the sick notes system Sick notes

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