Government proposals to force GPs to sign fewer sick notes for workers have been rejected by Doctors in Unite, which represents GPs and doctors operating in the NHS.
Detailed government proposals were first briefed to the media earlier this month, indicating that the chancellor could announce in next month’s budget changes to the sick note system, with the emphasis changing from whether the patient is ill to keeping people in work.
Doctors in Unite believes that it is a fundamental duty of doctors to be allowed to record people as sick or able to work solely based on their medical condition and not on arbitrary government guidelines. Suggestions that quotas could be imposed on how many sick notes a doctor could issue is entirely at odds with medical ethics.
Doctors in Unite chair Coral Jones said “Government policies undermining the NHS and social care while increasing social inequality are making people ill. Forcing sick people back into work smacks of a Victorian workhouse mentality and the medical profession will not be party to such an anachronistic approach.
“We will continue to act as advocates for our patients, assessing their health objectively and with care and compassion and will certify them fit or unfit for work according to these criteria alone. We know our colleagues will do the same.”
The government’s proposals appear to have arisen due to a sharp increase in the number of people currently off work due to long-term health conditions, the driving down of wages and living standards, the running down of the NHS, and the abandonment of the population to repeated waves of Covid-19 infection.
Doctors in Unite believes that the number of workers forced out of work due to long-term health conditions could be dramatically reduced by the creation of a national occupational health service, whose aim would be to protect the health of workers. This would be in sharp contrast to the current system of employer-provided occupational health services which lack independence and don’t have workers’ welfare as their primary purpose.
Dr Jones added: “If the government was serious about reducing long-term ill health they would create a national occupational health service, whose purpose was to protect the health of workers throughout their working lives.”
Doctors in Unite is also encouraging everyone concerned with the proposals to sign the petition demanding that the government does not progress with its plans to change the sick note system.
Notes to editors
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Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.