Leaders of the British Medical Association want the time an employee is off work because they have certified themselves as sick to be doubled from one to two weeks before they need to see a GP.
Requiring a sick note after one week takes time away from patients who may need appointments more, according to Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GP committee.
Vautrey speaks before the BMA debates a motion at its annual conference on Wednesday which “demands that certification of fitness to work (‘fit notes’) need not be done by a medical professional and that there should be an extension of self-certification for illness from seven to 14 days”.
Doctors also want the law changed so that other health professionals such as midwives, physiotherapists and senior nurses, can also sign sick notes. But organisations representing employers rejected the call and warned that it could lead to more people staying off work falsely claiming to be ill.
“Federation of Small Business members are concerned this change could lead to a rise in absenteeism,’’ said Mike Cherry, its national chairman. “Fit notes are an important check in the system, and smaller firms would not want to see them undermined.”
Speaking ahead of the BMA debate, Vautrey said:
“It’s about empowering patients and trusting patients and reducing unnecessary appointments with GPs. “This is just a motion that is trying to do something to reduce the unnecessary appointments that GPs have and thereby increase the number of appointments that are available for people who genuinely do need to see a GP.
If someone was to abuse the new system it would be an issue between them and their employer, We just have to trust people to do the right thing.”
But the Department of Work and Pensions said it would not alter how sick notes operate. “The system was set up following consultation and we believe it supports individuals and employers without overburdening GPs. We have no plans to change the existing policy.”
The BMA’s call comes as GP leaders urge the NHS to enable patients to bypass seeing a family doctor and get treated by a physiotherapist, mental health specialist or experienced nurse instead to help tackle the building stresses of GP work.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said people with sore backs and other musculoskeletal problems should be allowed to seek help directly from a physiotherapist without having to first see a GP, as already happens in some parts of England. Those with minor mental health problems should be able to self-refer to a therapist, he said.