The number of incidents in which GP signatures are being forged on sick notes and other medical documents is rising, according to the Medical Defence Union (MDU),
The warning follows the increased availability of online editing software, which allows patients to forge a range of documents including letters, prescriptions and sick notes.
Certain websites even offer advice on how to convincingly forge a sick note or allow people to buy replacement/replica and fake NHS sick notes for as little as £9.99.
But the MDU warns GPs to tread carefully when it comes to removing patients engaged in forgery from a practice’s list
Writing in the latest MDU Journal, medico-legal adviser Dr Ellie Mein says the MDU had supported members with cases ranging from ‘forged prescriptions and genuine sick notes that have been altered to prolong the duration of the patient’s sick leave, through to more elaborate letters that have been created entirely from scratch’.
In one example, a GP received a phone call from the local university asking for clarification on a letter apparently signed by the GP. It appeared to support a student in extending a coursework deadline due to ill healt, but the GP did not recall signing the letter and did not even recognise the circumstances described.
A review of the patient’s notes revealed that they hadn’t been seen for at least two years and although the letter was written on paper with the practice letterhead on it, the signature was similar, but not identical, to the GP’s.
Dr Mein says: ‘In situations where a document is entirely fake, or an original has been altered and a doctor is asked to comment on its authenticity by an external organisation, the MDU advises that it’s not a breach of confidentiality if you simply confirm that you didn’t create the document, or that any altered documents aren’t as they were when you originally signed them.
’However, no other information should be given about whether the patient is actually registered at the practice or comments made about whether the medical information is correct,’ she added.
Dr Mein also warns GPs not to remove a patient who has used fraudulent documents from the practice’s list without prior warning because it could leave the practice open to complaints.
She says: ‘The GMC also has guidance on ending your professional relationship with patients. Bearing this guidance in mind, it is often helpful to ask the patient in to discuss the letter or form in question and to make a judgment after that discussion as to the best way forward.’