In a response to an independent review of sickness absence, published earlier this month, the government recognised calls for GPs to be given more support when writing ‘fit notes’ for patients taking extended sick leave from work.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said GPs would be given access to a new ‘health and work assessment and advisory service, to help them when making decisions about a patient’s ability to work.’
The DWP said the service would ‘provide greater access to occupational health expertise for GPs to refer their patients to'.
Under the government’s plans, GPs will be required to refer all patients who have been on sick leave for four weeks or more to the assessment service.
Once referred to the scheme, patients would be assessed by occupational health professionals and given access to an online job search service in cases where they were unlikely to return to their current employer.
Leicestershire GP and occupational health expert Dr Rob Hampton welcomed the move. He said: ‘At last GPs will be able to refer complex cases of sickness absence in the same way as they can seek specialist healthcare advice for their patients.
Dr Hampton said he was hopeful that GPs would be able to play a part in establishing the new service.
‘The way the service will be commissioned is yet to be decided but I am hopeful that GPs, through CCGs and health and wellbeing boards, will have a significant influence on shaping the service.’
Dr Hampton did not believe GP workload would rise with the requirement to refer patients to the assessment service after four weeks on sick leave.
‘I think the GP systems are so well set up that the four-week default will be fairly easy to manage. I don’t see that driving up workload,’ he said.