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‘GP patients won’t be identified from sick note records’

I want to set the record straight on the recent coverage of our plans to collect fit note information from GPs in England and express my disappointment with Pulse’s reporting. To be clear, all data collected will be anonymised and aggregated for use in developing healthcare policy.

Nothing is more sacred in our profession than the trust between doctor and patient, the advice we give, medicine we dispense and procedures we recommend are only ever done in the best interests of our patients. When I first qualified as a GP, my beliefs were no different – patient care and health has always been my priority.

We will use these statistics to better inform health policy across the UK

At the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) I bring my unique perspective and background in general practice medicine and public health and apply it to policy development. We look to ensure a balance between an individual’s health goals and the long term health of the nation. In developing national policy we not only have to consider how best to ensure patient recovery, but also how to prevent them from becoming sick in the first place. Vital to that process is having accurate information on the nation’s health.

Creating good policy requires good evidence and that is why we want to collect data on sickness absence. If we are to create the best possible support for people to get back into work, we need to know more about the patterns of sickness absence around the country. This information will come from anonymised fit note data which, will be published at CCG level. GP practice level data will not be published and I can assure you and your patients that no identifiable information will be extracted at any point. Safeguards are in place to ensure that personal information is removed from the data before the statistics are created and GP-patient confidentiality is not broken.

We will use these statistics to better inform health policy across the UK and develop better quality care for everyone, implementing policies that can speed the road to recovery and back into employment. I understand the privileged and trusted status GPs have with their patients and I look forward to working with GPs to ensure better health both in and out of the workplace.

Dr Pui-Ling Li, chief medical officer and scientific advisor at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)