Leeds doctor: ‘People should be able to “self-certify” as ill to reduce GPs’ surgery waiting times’

A senior doctor has called for the government to allow people to take more time off without getting a note from their doctor, as figures show Yorkshire doctors are issuing sick notes more than almost any other region.

Leeds has the highest rates of doctors sick notes

Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds doctor and chair of the BMA GPs committee said the government requirement for people to ask their doctor for a sick note is clogging up GPs waiting rooms.

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People need to provide a fit note -- as they are now officially called -- from the doctor when they are off work for more than seven calendar days to show their employer they are too ill to work.

Leeds has the highest rates of doctors sick notes

Under current rules only a doctor is able to provide a fit note, however, Dr Vautrey called for people to be able to self-certify for at least two weeks.

He said: “It's our belief that most people want to work, they're not trying to avoid going into work and they should be trusted in their view, rather than having to go to a GP to get them to write on a piece of paper to say that they're not fit for work, when clearly, that is demonstrably the case.

“The patient should be believed by their employer and should be allowed to self certificate for a bit longer. That would reduce the number of people simply making an appointment with their GP for a fit note and it would enable more other patients to get access to those appointments instead.”

A fifth of patients are waiting more than two weeks for a GP appointment, according to research published in the British Medical Journal last year, with one in 20 people waiting more than 28 days.

In the report, NHS Digital said because some of these were follow-up appointments they may not be a good indicator of patients’ waiting times.

Emma Atkinson, 30, who lives in Leeds, took time off from her job in the finance sector for mental health reasons. She said, while longer self-certification sounded like a good idea, in practice it might mean people putting off vital medical care.

She said: "If I'd been able to take more time off work before seeing a doctor, I would have delayed speaking to the doctor at a time when I was in need of further medical advice.

“As it turned out, my doctor was incredibly understanding and was able to make sure I took the time off I needed.

“Early intervention is so important and GPs are the gateway to receiving support from other services. There are already delays when waiting for referrals and having regular appointments with a doctor might be the only support someone is receiving in the interim."

The Department for Work and Pensions has previously said it had no plans to change the rules on how long people can self-certify.

However, it has said it would attempt to reduce the burden on GPs by allowing nurses and other healthcare professionals to write fit notes.

A Government spokesperson told the Yorkshire Post: “We want anyone suffering from a health condition to get the support they need.

“Having a self-certification system for those unable to work for a short period strikes a balance for employees and employers, but it's only right to seek medical expertise when facing longer periods off of work.

“We are working to ensure that fit notes can be issued by a wider range of healthcare professionals.”

Helen Kent, chief executive of mental health charity Leeds Mind said there were lots of factors that account for the increase, especially when it comes to mental health problems, which is the biggest reason for taking more than a week off work sick.

“People are more aware of mental health now than before. But I think also, we all live in really pressured lives, particularly over the last few years, with all the cuts and austerity.

“The expectations on people at work have increased enormously and the pressure on you to be contactable 24 hours a day [is a factor].”

Things like long hours with no breaks, working in a high pressure environment, having an unmanageable workload and job insecurity, can all contribute to poor mental and physical health, she said.