GPs are issuing more fit notes than before the pandemic, the latest data revealed, with workload implications for practices.
The Government has taken measures to address the workload related to GPs issuing fit notes, including last year encouraging hospital doctors to issue them to patients themselves.
During the initial rollout of Covid vaccines, as a temporary measure, it also did not require patients to get a fit note until they had been off work for more than 28 days.
Yet official data has revealed that – while the numbers issued went down in 2020/21 – they are now well beyond pre-pandemic levels.
NHS Digital revealed that there was a 9.5% increase on pre-pandemic levels, with 9.5 million issued in 2018/19 compared with 10.4m in 2021/22.
And despite the Government’s attempt to reduce fit note bureaucracy, the workload has increased, GPs told Pulse.
Dr Nick Grundy, a GP in South West London, said: ‘Most sick notes are issued by GP, so if the volume has gone up, it is safe to assume almost all of those additional notes were done by GPs.’
‘Sick notes create a huge workload for GPs and diverting this work to occupational health specialists would be a realistic solution to GP workload,’ added Dr Shaba Nabi, Bristol GP.
From April to June this year, GP practices have already issued 2.5 million fit notes, suggesting numbers will remain high.
Meanwhile, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Farah Jameel pointed to the NHS backlog and the current economic climate, which she said were both ‘adding to peoples’ misery and poor health’.
‘They often have to wait many months to see a specialist, and, as their health gets worse, may be unable to work, or need adjustments to their working pattern and therefore, approach their GP, as their employer requests a fit note,’ she said.
‘This vicious cycle won’t improve until general practice, and the rest of the NHS, gets the support it needs so that we can all deliver the care our patients deserve.’
In April, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that GPs no longer have to put their signature on fit notes for patients to reduce workload.
Additionally, a wider range of health professionals are now able to sign off fit notes to ease pressure on GPs.