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GPs see rising sick note requests from patients on back-to-work scheme

The GPC has complained to the Government over its drive to reassess everyone on incapacity benefit, as practices face rising numbers of patients requesting sick notes while their cases are reviewed.

The move comes as BMA leaders voted to scrap the Work Capability Assessment system, which they said ‘has little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of the long term sick and disabled'.

The Government scheme aims to give everyone on incapacity benefit a ‘work capability assessment', but LMC leaders say it has resulted in rising numbers of patients requesting sick notes while they appealed the decision to have their benefits withdrawn.

Dr Deborah Colvin, chair of City and Hackney LMC, said each of the 10 doctors at her practice now see three to four patients a week in this situation when it used to be an occasional occurrence.

She said: ‘I can't bear seeing patients with major disabilities being told they can go to work when there are no jobs to be had even if they were fit- and they're not. What do they expect us to do? Are we supposed to leave people with nothing?'

Dr John Canning, chair of the GPC's Professional Fees Committee is leading negotiations with the Department for Work and Pensions.  He said: ‘I have raised the issue on behalf of the GPC and the Professional Fees Committee. The DWP have undertaken to address the issue; I will not let this rest'.

The BMA's Annual Representative Meeting in Bournemouth last week voted for a motion that called for the scheme to be replaced with a ‘rigorous and safe' system that ‘does not cause unavoidable harm to some of the weakest and vulnerable in society'.

Dr Louise Irvine, BMA Council member and a GP in Lewisham, who proposed the motion, said the system was ‘completely inadequate', especially for assessing patients with pain, fatigue, mental health or cognitive problems.

She said: ‘It is putting patients through a really inhumane system.'

A DWP spokesperson said: ‘GPs should only issue a fit note if a patient has a health condition which impacts on their fitness for work, whether they are appealing any DWP decision or not.'