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Save me from the unworking well



Normally when I’m on my summer holiday the phone is off, the TV is never on, newspapers remain in the rack, and the outside world and I amicably break all contact for a few weeks. We can do without each other, for a short period at least. 

However, in the car on my current jaunt, while changing one Goon Show CD for another, I accidentally turned on the radio and heard two pieces of vital information.

First, we have a new heir to the throne; a baby boy, who at that point remained unnamed. I took the opportunity to dash down to the bookies in Shetland and get five quid each way on ‘Keith’, while the odds were still long. By the time you read this we’ll probably know for sure; I confidently expect to clean up on that one.

The second item that accidentally got through my firewall was that Atos, that paragon of common sense and private enterprise, will as of next year lose its monopoly on quizzing unemployed disabled people to assess their suitability for work.

The Government’s audit found as many as 41% of Atos’s written reports on disability claims were flawed. But in my experience – although it is unfashionable to say so – Atos nearly always gets it right.

These fitness-to-work assessments – under Atos, and under anyone who takes the role for that matter – generate a massive amount of work in general practice. Entire surgeries could be filled with the disgruntled unworking well, full of indignation at being considered reasonably healthy.

An irresistible force is meeting an unmovable object here, and we are caught in the middle. We are, as a profession, dedicated to making our patients as healthy as possible, and yet a proportion of punters are hell bent on trying to prove they’re really ill, and need us to confirm it. This is a paradox we face daily. The fact is, nearly everyone is capable of some kind of work. I had considered, at one point, putting up a portrait of Professor Stephen Hawking in my consulting room with a caption that said ‘This bloke is not on the sick’.

Being found fit for some kind of employment by Atos does not mean you’re necessarily capable of being an FBI agent or a lumberjack. However, you might be able to work at a desk on a telephone, or hold a lollipop on a zebra crossing. And we all know, without any shadow of a doubt, that any form of regular employment is not only financially beneficial but also leads to less depression, greater social contact, increased well being, a decreasing tendency to addiction and social deprivation, and an increased likelihood of being in a stable relationship. 

So it may be bye-bye to Atos, and if so good luck to whatever new organisation takes over. I have only one request; try to keep general practice out of it. The dilemma of constantly dealing with requests to confirm illnesses that I have already sorted out is wasting far too much time and muddying the doctor/patient relationship. Take sickness certification away from us. We are too close.