GPs swamped by swine flu sick note requests
By Gareth Iacobucci
GPs are being overrun by requests for sick notes from patients suffering from swine flu, and are being left in limbo on how to deal with those diagnosed by the new national flu helpline.
GP leaders are warning that GPs are being left with no choice but to issue sick notes based on patients say so, as they have no way of verifying telephone diagnoses.
LMCs are advising GPs to issue modified versions of existing sick certificates, which make it clear that they have not made the diagnosis themselves, and have called on the Government to issue national guidance to GPs on how to deal with the influx of requests.
In London, one of the hardest hit areas, LMCs say the confusion has left GPs to make their own judgment calls on whether or not patients are in genuine need of a sick note.
The Government recently hinted that it may extend the period that patients can take off work without a sick note from 7 to 14 days for swine flu sufferers, but is currently refusing to sanction any changes, after suspected pressure from business leaders, who are understood to have warned it would create a malingerer's charter.
Under current regulations, GPs are charged with issuing sick notes, but only to patients they have seen in person, leaving a huge grey area for those diagnosed by the recently-launched national telephone helpline.
Chris Locke, secretary of Nottinghamshire LMC, said that while the new flu-line had eased the pressure in terms of the number of swine flu cases, GPs in his area were being swamped by requests for sick notes.
‘Since the flu-line has opened, we're grateful it has taken the pressure off GPs. But there seems to be no end for the demand for sick-notes. Their phones are full-up with people asking for sick-notes. There is obviously a real problem, particularly if the GP hadn't seen them at all,' he said.
‘Pragmatically, we've agreed locally that it should be sufficient for GPs to issue a note saying that you've been informed that they have had a telephone diagnosis by the flu line.
‘But all the GP has to go on is what the patient tells them. The employer might not be very impressed, but there is no other way around it.'
He added: ‘The Government should be able to amend the rules to extend to 14 days. Both locally and nationally, we've been asking for clear advice from the centre, about how GPs should deal with these issues.'
Dr Michelle Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, who has been fiercely critical of the Government's handling of the outbreak, has also advised GPs to use an adapted version of existing sick notes, provided they are satisfied patients are not ‘swinging the lead'.
GPs will have to judge if patients are 'swinging the lead' Dr Michelle Drage Pattern of swine flu spread across the UK Pattern of swine flu spread across the UK