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GPs face fit notes backlash

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs could face a wave of unrest from patients unhappy at being ruled fit for work, after it emerged that a large proportion of claimants have successfully overturned assessments made under a Government's flagship scheme.

The work capability assessments under the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) scheme were introduced in 2008 as part of the Government's drive to send more people back to work, and were followed by the introduction of GP fit notes last month.

But new figures show that almost 40% of the 34,500 ESA appeal hearings seen between December 2008 and November 2009 were reversed, leading to fears that thousands of sick or disabled people have been denied benefits they are entitled to.

The suitability of the assessments, which are carried out by private firm Atos Healthcare, are now under close scrutiny following the large number of successful appeals.

And GPs have expressed concerns about an increase in conflicts with patients if they disagree with doctors' decisions to rule them fit to work.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, and a GP in the New Forest, said that there would ‘inevitably' be more conflict now that the emphasis was on getting people back to work as quickly as possible.

He said: ‘It is very difficult when you're a GP to try and be the patient's advocate as well as making those judgments. Inevitably there will be more appeals and conflict.'

Dr John Canning, secretary of Cleveland LMC and a GP in Middlesbrough, said initial assessments of people's fitness to work prior to seeing their GP had to be ‘more consistent' to reduce the ‘potential for conflict'.

Fit note