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The waiting game

GPs are signing 7% more fit notes than a year ago

The number of fit notes issued by GPs in England has risen by more than 7% in the space of a year, official figures have shown.

NHS Digital statistics show the number of fit notes – previously known as sick notes – authorised by GPs increased from 2,292,182 between July and September 2018, to 2,462,938 during the same period in 2019.

GP leaders said the steep rise could be down to the tendency for hospital doctors to pass on the activity to GPs, in combination with increasing numbers of patients being too ill to work.

There is an ‘urgent need’ to reform the way fit notes are issued, particularly at a time when GPs are already struggling with workload demands, they said.

Fit notes, signed by GPs after a patient has self-certified their ill health for seven days, replaced sick notes in 2010 under the new system of assessing claims for welfare benefits when someone is too ill to work.

Between July and September 2019, mental and behavioural disorders were the most common reason for a patient needing a fit note signed by their GP.

A total of 261,127 notes were signed for mental health conditions – around 11% of all those authorised.

The rise in number of fit notes issued by general practice is partly due to other areas of the NHS passing on the extra workload, according to GP leaders.

Dr Peter Scott, a Birmingham GP and chair of Solihull LMC, said hospitals should be doing more to help.

He said: ‘The hospitals do often throw the workload on to the patient’s GP when they come home. Sick notes could be generated in the hospitals, but they are thrown onto primary care. It’s easier to pass it on.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, highlighted the workload pressures facing GPs and called for a wider range of hospital staff to be able to sign fit notes to ease the burden.

He said: ‘This is yet another indicator of the workload pressures GPs are under, and the growing number of patients who are too ill to work because they are living with conditions like anxiety, stress and depression.'

Dr Vautrey added: 'It’s clear there is an urgent need to see reform of the fit note arrangements. This must include extending the period of self-certification and enabling more healthcare professionals to issue fit notes, including hospital practitioners.’

A Pulse survey of over 800 GPs taken in 2018, found that a fifth of GPs said the advice they gave on fit notes was ignored by employers.

A Pulse investigation into welfare benefits last year found that among those patients who go on to try and claim employment support allowance, but are told they are fit for work, the majority (68%) win their appeal. GPs warned the system of assessment was not fit for purpose.


Readers' comments (19)

  • It reflects more work and more patients been seen.

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  • It would be simpler to make fit notes not the responsibility of the GP but of OH paid for by employer or DWP who want the information over and above the word of the employee.
    Fit notes are really not our business and they get in the way of the doctor patient relationship. I really do not know how long people should be off or how it affects their work.

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  • Do DWP think that we GP are best placed to supply fit note?
    There are so many factors 1) Dr patient relationship 2) we don’t have proper training to assess whether Patent is fit enough or not fit to carry his duty 3) we don’t know exactly what does patients job involves.
    They really have to give it to completely impartial department who can assess patients ability to carry on their duties . Most of the sick notes are given as per patients wishes and that’s the fact

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  • Not worth the paper they are written on the patient dictates the terms, we are not occupational health trained so are unable to comment on what the patient can or cant do ,pathetic best place rubbish.

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  • Bob Hodges

    We have sick not slots for people to request on the day they're due. No time wasting appointments ot phone 3s no questions asked.

    If the country is STUPID enough to expect me to Police this nonsense for free, more fool them.

    However, come in and start shouting at the receptionist for a sick line for 'depression and anxiety' backdated a month because you forgot to will NOT find the process so smooth.

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  • David Banner

    “Sick note” to “fit note”, the worst rebranding since Marathon became Snickers.
    (It’s a sick note. We issue them to the sick, not the fit.)

    Appointments are so rare that patients can’t be assessed by their GP any more, so sick notes are doled out without consultation nor question. Most GPs’ session lists are crammed with requests for them, and we print them out on demand, because we are the patient’s advocate. Want us to police it properly? Then give us the time and resources, or find someone else to do your dirty work.

    They have become a meaningless chore, especially since the DWP started rejecting “indefinite” sick notes and insisting on them every 3 months. That really is a sick joke.

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  • Hospital practitioners have had the responsibility to issue sick/fit notes for decades if they are advising their patients to take time off work. Trouble is many of them don't know it or choose to ignore it.

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  • National Hopeless Service

    We are finding that employers are refusing to get involved or accept SC2 and so patients are demanding Med3 from day one. Attempts to refuse or offer private private sick notes resulted in so much abuse towards the reception staff that we just provide them. Thirty seconds of my time to not lose another receptionist who cant face more patient abuse is worth it.

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  • Money printing has inflated assets and made housing unaffordable. Work is illogical for many compared to benefits but claiming requires papers such as med3.
    The answer is negative income tax or universal basic income, a Jane value tax and scrapping of housing benefit that traps people in their area of birth and ensures those with jobs have to move even further out of town.

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  • Typo: Land not Jane

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