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Proposals for ending GPs' sicknote burden in doubt

Plans for sickness certification to be taken away from GPs are in doubt after the Government said doctors had to play a bigger role in getting people back to work.

Employers have also said proposals for occupational health departments to take over issuing sicknotes may have to delayed because of a shortage of nurses.

The new GMS contract stated responsibility for sickness certification would be moved to occupational health departments by April 2006, if a series of BMA and Department of Health-sponsored pilot schemes due to start this year were successful.

Gareth Williams, head of health, disability and work at the Department for Work and Pensions, told a recent conference GPs had to see 'return-to-work' as 'part of the clinical decision'.

He added GPs needed to work with patients who were on long-term sickness absence to encourage them to return to work gradually.

'We want them to consider options that are better for the patient and the health service,' he told People Management.

'Too often there is an on/off switch ­ if someone is ill they can't work, and if they are well they can.'

Mr Williams's comments came as a survey of employers found seven companies in 10 thought switching sickness certification away from GPs would be 'difficult in practice'.

The survey of human resources managers by consultants Croner revealed firms were concerned transferring responsibility to more junior health staff could lead more workers to feign sickness.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, said transferring responsibility to occupational health nurses may have to be delayed.

'It's a good idea in principle but there could be a real resource issue. We need to look at that before a decision on transferring the system over is confirmed,' he said.

The Department of Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office have commissioned research into the feasibility of occupational health physicians, practice nurses and physiotherapists issuing Med 3 certificates.

GPC joint-deputy chair

Dr Simon Fradd said GPs should only have to deal with complicated requests, such as medical certificates for court appearances.

By Jacqueline Head

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