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GPs placed in sick pay front line

GPs could be given incentives to help cut the number of people on incapacity benefit under new plans being developed by the Government.

By Rob Finch

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton says he wants to discuss including payments in GPs' contracts as part of proposals to cut the £12.5 billion a year incapacity benefit bill.

But Mr Hutton ­ who is a former health minister ­ denied reports that GPs would be offered incentives specifically to reduce the number of people they signed off sick. He told the BBC's Today programme such a move would be 'bonkers'. Mr Hutton said: 'What we're proposing is that we look at their contracts to see how we can make sure incentive payments are supporting people who are in work who have got a health-related issue and might risk losing their job.

'For people on benefit [we want to see] what we can do in the family doctors' clinics to make sure they get the healthcare and support they need to get back to work.'

The Department of Work and Pensions submitted evidence to the quality framework review group last year calling for points to be allocated to GPs for referring patients to an employment adviser. But the proposal was left out of revisions to the QOF for 2006/7.

GPs said it was not their job to get people back to work and demanded the Government end their role in occupational health assessment. GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey, who has a Citizen's Advice Bureau adviser working in his Leeds practice, said sick patients would not benefit from being bullied back to work. He said: 'Our long-term view is this isn't a role GPs should be involved in.

'We have long argued that the best way to deal with sick notes is by someone other than a GP ­ in an occupational health role.'

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Thames Valley LMCs, said that any incentive scheme would pose an ethical dilemma for GPs. He said: 'There is a conflict of interest if you do that. GPs have an obligation to be a patient advocate. It needs to look in greater detail at the problem to find a better solution ­ I doubt GPs are the best solution.'

An NHS Confederation report on the issue suggested panels of independent doctors should review cases and that money saved by cutting benefits costs should be ploughed into counselling schemes.

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