We’ll give you a sick note because we’re too scared to say no! GPs admit they dole out letters to patients they haven’t even SEEN over fears they’ll get negative reviews online

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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GPs working in the NHS are routinely writing sick notes for patients they have not seen, doctors have claimed.

Family doctors admit that ’95 per cent’ of requests for time off are waved through after an email request without any further assessment. 

They also admit sick notes are ‘rarely ever’ denied.

Some claim that doctors are ‘too scared to refuse’ sick notes because they worry patients will become aggressive or write a negative review of the GP practice on social media.

‘We don’t want to risk confrontation,’ claimed one GP based in the North of England. ‘Often, we don’t know the patient. We just see the request in our inbox and okay it.’

In a major speech today, Rishi Sunak will warn that a surge in people signed off sick with mental health conditions is placing ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the welfare budget

The revelation comes after Rishi Sunak announced plans today to strip GPs of their power to sign people off work.

The Prime Minister described the move as an effort to tackle the UK’s ‘sick note culture’ which was causing a ‘spiralling’ welfare bill due to the record number of people out-of-work with illness.

Latest figures suggest 2.8million Britons are ‘economically inactive’ due to ill health. Around half are signed off with depression, anxiety and bad nerves.

Mr Sunak added that it was time to be ‘more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life’.

Labour criticised the plan, arguing that the Government had ‘run out of ideas’. Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer accused Sunak of ‘blaming people who are ill’.

However, many GPs welcomed the change, which would see sick notes – known in the NHS as fit notes – become the responsibility of teams of ‘specialist work and health professionals’.

Key points from PM’s sick note speech 

  • Piloting using specialist teams to assess what work people can do, rather than GPs signing them off long-term sick
  • Anyone on benefits for 12 months who does not comply with conditions set by their work coach should be stripped of handouts entirely 
  • Speeding up shift to Universal Credit for those on ‘outdated’ legacy benefits
  • A benefit fraud crackdown including new powers to carry out warrants for searches, seizures and arrests 

 

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‘There needs to be a rethink in how we properly assess long-term or chronic disease,’ said Professor Dame Clare Gerada, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

‘We need to see if there are other ways to support people than signing off a sick note.

‘It’s very difficult to say no. General practice is in freefall. We have fewer GPs, fewer specialists and we are seeing far too many patients.

‘We can’t be expected to assess them all. It doesn’t mean we don’t care, because we do. But we simply may not have time to see every person who is off sick.’

A GP source said that many family doctors were ‘deliriously happy’ with the move.

‘Fit notes create conflict between GPs and their patients,’ the source added.

‘Doctors are often too scared to refuse to sign patients off because they worry they will get angry.

‘This might lead to the patient showing up at the surgery and acting aggressively to the staff or they will leave a bad review online which damages their reputation.

‘Most days I’ll receive about four or five fit note requests. I’ll only see the patient if they have developed a new condition, which is almost never the case because most people asking for a note have long-running issues like pain or anxiety.

‘I’d say that about 95 per cent of the fit notes I deal with are handled without seeing the patient. And I rarely ever deny them. It’s not worth the stress.’

The Royal College of General Practitioners has been approached for comment.

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