Ministers plan radical overhaul of the sick-note system to get more people back to work, reports suggest
- More patients to receive treatment instead of being declared unfit to work
Ministers will unveil a radical overhaul of the sick note system in a bid to help get more people to work, reports suggest.
Patients could be ‘triaged’ by a local medic – such as a mental-health practitioner, physiotherapist or GP – with the emphasis being to ‘treat-them-first’ rather than declare them as unfit.
The proposals, being drawn up by Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride and Health Secretary Steve Barclay, hope to cut the welfare bill by reducing numbers routinely signed off for months at a time.
It comes after Mr Stride revealed last week at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that GPs were signing people off ‘as being unfit for any work whatsoever’ in 90 per cent of cases, in part due to time pressures.
The changes would form part of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement to drive down public spending.
The proposals draw on Work Well pilot schemes designed to help get people back into work by providing support and advice from NHS and Jobcentre staff.
Currently, GPs are asked to classify people as either unfit for work, or possibly fit for work with specific changes such as adapted hours or duties.
Mr Stride suggests that many family doctors do not have the time to explore potential changes to help people back to work and can tick to sign them off, almost as a default answer.
He told a Centre for Social Justice event: ‘You start by going to your GP, they give you on average seven minutes, they have a fit note where 93 per cent of the time they will sign you off as being unfit for any work whatsoever. A medical practitioner has therefore said you cannot work.
‘The other box, which is that under certain circumstances with adjustments you might be able to do something, only gets ticked 6 per cent of the time.
‘I want to change that. I want to change it such that the person that goes in who can be helped there and then goes into an arrangement where health support, plus work coach support, is brought together at that moment in time to make sure that they don’t proceed along that path.’
Patients looking for a fit note would undergo a process to identify the most appropriate clinician or official for an individual for them to see.
This could be a medical professional such as an occupational or mental-health practitioner, Jobcentre work coaches or ‘life coaches’ to help with issues such as debt.
A source involved in the discussions told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘GPs will absolutely still have a role, but exactly how that functions is something that is being discussed’.