Health

Let workers self-certify illness for 14 days, say GPs

Nose wiping Image copyright SPL

Workers should be able to self-certify sickness for up to two weeks to help reduce the number of unnecessary GP appointments, doctors say.

People need a doctor's note if they are off for more than a week, but GPs said people should be trusted more and it could reduce the growing burden on GPs.

The call at the British Medical Association's annual conference comes amid rising demand for appointments.

But the government said it had no plans to change the existing policy.

Doctors also want to be paid for carrying out health checks on patients who apply for firearms licences.

GPs are asked by police to report any health conditions - mental or physical - that may present a risk.

These assessments can take up to an hour to do as medical records have to be examined, and doctors said that uses valuable NHS resources.

Dr John Canning, a GP from Middlesbrough and chairman of the BMA's professional fees committee, said: "That's half a dozen appointments that it will take up. That's six people who don't get seen.

"We're busy enough doing the day job, curing the sick."

Both these issues on their own represent a relatively small share of the average GP workload, but Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds medic who sits on the BMA's GPs committee, said combined with other issues, they could start to help reduce the burden.

'Sensible move'

It is estimated that GPs in England carry out 370 million appointments a year - a rise of 70 million in the past seven years.

Dr Vautrey said doubling the length of time someone is able to self-certify illness would be a sensible move in helping to ease the strain.

"If you've got a patient who very clearly has an illness that is going to last 10 days to two weeks, why do they need to make an appointment with a GP, just to get that note to tell their employer what their employer probably knows already, and what the patient should be trusted to be able to pass on?"

He also highlighted other examples of unnecessary appointments - including people asking for certificates to show that their children were well enough to take part in school plays and council tenants needing proof that damp houses made their asthma worse in order to move.

A DWP spokesman said it had no plans to change the existing self-certification policy, adding: "The system was set up following consultation and we believe it supports individuals and employers without overburdening GPs."

Last year, a report by Citizens Advice found that a fifth of GPs' time was taken up with non-health issues.

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