This site is intended for health professionals only


Pulling a sickie



copperfield duo 1500x1000px

I’m still feeling the remnants of a warm glow as my next patient enters, but it’s fading and about to be unceremoniously extinguished. This happy flush resulted from a lady I saw this morning.

Apparently, 14 years ago, I turned down her request for a sick note for workplace unhappiness and suggested, instead, a new job, which she pursued and which resulted in, I quote, ‘The best ten years of my life.’ This was the first time she’d seen me since and she wanted to say a genuine and warm thanks. Wow. The smallest things etc.

Anyway, with blogworthy symmetry, this next customer is also unhappy at work. He explains this to me, without pause, for significantly more than his statutory ten minutes, by which time I decide the ‘open’ part of the consultation has outstayed its welcome and it’s time to cut to the chase.

‘So I understand that you’re stressed at work and feel you’re being bullied?’ Yes, he says. I explain that I am, of course, sorry to hear that, but wonder just how I can help, exactly, as if I don’t know.

He attempts to trump this by suggesting that my attitude is just adding to his stress

Ah yes, quelle surprise. He wants me to sign him off for a couple of weeks. I gently and politely explain that this is not appropriate, and, despite my CSA-approved attempts to soften the blow, he looks at me as though I’ve just taken a dump on the carpet.

So I decide to elaborate. ‘While I accept that work related stress is a thing,’ I say, ‘It’s not a medical thing, it’s a work thing, and it’s certainly not a medical or work thing that will be sorted out by being signed off sick, because that just avoids, rather than solves, the issue. This is a problem for your employer, not me.’

Now, I believe that to be impeccable logic. But he attempts to trump this by suggesting that my attitude is just adding to his stress, thereby making him worse and therefore even less capable of work.

‘So let me get this straight,’ I say. ‘You now want a sick note for stress because my refusal to give you a sick note for stress is making you so much more stressed that your stress has now reached a level that justifies the sick note for stress that I wouldn’t just a moment ago give you?’

He thinks about this for a moment. Then he storms off, only to storm back in to say, ‘You’re the worst doctor ever,’ before storming out again.

I doubt this is a life transformed, but I am certain of a complaint and a one-star NHS Choices rant. It’s not all bad, though. I seem to be glowing again.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex