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GPs 'lack the time and skills' to offer fit notes

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs lack both the time or the skills to issue ‘fit notes' to patients, according to the medical director of a leading private health firm.

Bupa medical director Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen claims that GPs are ill-equipped to take sole control of the scheme, which will hand them responsibility for writing so-called ‘fit notes' to patients who take time off work from illness.

Writing in Health Insurance, he argues responsibility for issuing the notes should be shared more with occuptational health specialists.

The initiative is being rolled out nationally over the next two years as part of a government drive to cut the amount of money lost to the economy from sick-leave.

The proposals, announced by the Department of Work and Pensions back in November, will provide GPs with "user-friendly" electronic forms to inform employers what patients are fit to do at work.

But Dr Vallance-Owen said GPs should work more with workplace health service providers. He said: ‘Do GPs have the time or skills to issue fit notes? The answer, from GPs themselves, lies in the fact that they are ill-equipped to do so.

‘Although they support the view that it is good for people to work if at all possible, they are concerned that occupational health (OH) requires a very specific skill set and this is not something they are equipped for.

He added: ‘Many employers agree. In a recent survey of Bupa's corporate clients, almost two thirds of employers said that OH specialists, and not GPs, are best placed to assess someone's fitness to return to work. Eight out of 10 said they would like to see them work with GPs to write fit notes.'

GP leaders have broadly backed the need for a review of the sick note system, but expressed concern about how the system will work. GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman recently stressed the importance of ensuring that GPs ‘continue to act as the patient's advocate, and don't end up policing the system for the Department for Work and Pensions.'

GPs are 'ill equipped' to offer fit notes, according to the medical director of a leading private medical firm

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