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Trust tells staff to get GP note for ‘any period of absence’

Exclusive An NHS foundation trust required all its staff to get a note from their GP for ‘any period of absence’ over the Christmas and New Year’s period, in a bid to crack down on unscheduled sick leave.

Rotherham Foundation Trust told staff they would require ‘additional assurances’ over absences between 22 December and 5 January, and that a GP note would be required even if they would normally be able to self-certify illness.

Local leaders said that this move showed a lack of understanding of the impact on the whole health service if GP slots were being taken up unnecessarily.

It comes as trusts across the country have been struggling with demand over the Christmas period, with GPs being urged to work on New Year’s Day to help secondary care services cope.

In an update circulated to staff, the Rotherham Foundation Trust states: ‘Given the difficulties faced at present in terms of patient flow and capacity, we need to ensure that we are staffed to respond effectively to our patients’ needs over the Christmas period.’

‘We will therefore be monitoring attendance closely during the next few weeks and have set the following stipulation for periods of sickness that occur during 22/12/2014 – 05/01/2014.’

It adds: ‘Colleagues are also required to supply a GP note for any period of absence, even if this is during the self-certification period.  The Trust will reimburse any cost associated in this provision on the production of a receipt.’

The Trust’s attendance policy allows staff to give self-certification for sickness absences up to seven days, only requiring a GP note from the eighth day of absence.

Dr James Sutherland, a salaried GP in North Derbyshire, told Pulse that no GP representative had been involved in the discussions, and the scheme increased the pressure on general practice.

Dr Sutherland said: ‘We did have a patient attend merely for the purposes of getting a private note for a self limiting illness which brought this matter to our attention. We are not local to this particular hospital and I expect practices nearby were more affected.’

He added: ‘I had a constructive discussion with the Director of HR who explained they were trying to reduce staff absenteeism during the holiday period. It was apparent they had not considered this would potentially have a negative impact on general practice by unnecessarily using appointments and no GP representatives had been involved in the decision.’

‘The director said this was a temporary arrangement for this Christmas period and having heard my comments she felt they were unlikely to make the same arrangements in the future.’

‘I think this does however illustrate a tendency in the NHS to shift work to general practice without considering the implications of this.’

Reports in the national media have suggested A&E waiting times in England have fallen to their worst level for a decade, while a number of hospitals have declared ‘major incidents’.

A spokesperson for Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust told Pulse: ‘After evaluating patterns of sickness seen over previous holiday periods, this festive period the Trust put in place additional measures to ensure that staff were mindful of the importance of attending work as scheduled, if they were fit and well to do so.

‘The Trust recognises that requests for doctors’ notes could place additional pressures on GPs and other services, however the Trust also recognises the impact on patient safety and delivery of care if staff do not attend work without valid reason during this busy period.

‘The Trust takes sickness absence very seriously and has recently put in place further measures to support its staff through a revised sickness absence policy.’