GPs will be urged to refer patients to life coaches instead of signing them off sick
- Latest figures show a record 2.55million Brits are off on long term sick leave
- The move is under consideration by Department for Work and Pensions officials
GPs may be urged to refer Brits to life coaches instead of just automatically signing them off sick, it was claimed today.
Ministers hope the planned shake-up could help tackle the UK’s sick note crisis, with a record 2.5m people now on long-term sick leave.
Fit notes — handed out by doctors, physiotherapists and pharmacists — are currently issued to patients who’ve been off work ill for over a week.
Patients are either declared ‘unfit for work’, or their employer is told they ‘may be fit for work’ subject to adaptations to their job role or workplace. For example, this may include sticking to limited hours or taking on different duties.
But one option currently under consideration by officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may see an extra option added to the note, The Times reports.
Latest figures show a record 2.55million Brits are currently signed off on long term sickness leave. The worrying stats, published in May was blamed partly on back and neck pain caused by working from home. A rise in mental health problems among young people and long Covid were also among the factors behind the surge, according to experts at the Office for National Statistics
There were just 27,558 full-time equivalent, fully qualified GPs working in England in June 2022 down 1.6 per cent on 2021. This was down 5.3 per cent on the more than 29,000 working in June 2017
Generally 4 week waits have become more common over time, accounting for an increasing proportion of GP appointments, although levels peaked in late 2022 they have remained high this year as well
This would allow GPs to automatically refer patients to support schemes or programmes, when classifying them as potentially able to work with the right help.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the proposal has ‘merit in principle’, acknowledging that working can be ‘beneficial’ for patients.
But she said the doctors would decide on the ‘health and wellbeing of an individual, not meeting government targets for keeping people in work’.
Under a ‘universal support’ programme, up to 50,000 people currently not working due to mental health, debt or other problems, could be referred to life coaches.
The scheme is already in force in 12 pilot areas across the UK, but officials accept the fit note system should only be officially updated nationwide, once support schemes become more widely available.
A Government source told The Times: ‘The general view is that parity of esteem between mental and physical health, as well as what’s happened with Covid, has meant that more people are being signed off sick.’
They added: ‘It’s led to a huge increase in the size of the welfare state.
‘Nobody is talking about cutting benefits, that would be politically disastrous, but we are looking closely at how we can incentivise people to go back to work.’
A record 2.5million people were not working due to long-term sickness in the first three months of the year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
It means that for every 13 workers, there is one person unemployed because of their illness.
This is up from 2million in 2019, before the Covid pandemic struck.
The worrying trend was blamed partly on back and neck pain caused by working from home.
A rise in mental health problems among young people and long Covid were also among the factors behind the surge, according to experts at the Office for National Statistics.
Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride hopes reforms will help tackle the problem.
Under plans floated by The Treasury and DWP earlier this year, it was claimed that GPs would be encouraged to issue fewer sick notes.
But the British Medical Association hit back at the ‘ridiculous’ push, arguing that the move ‘undermines’ doctors’ expertise and ‘puts patients and the wider community at risk’.