GPs must spot patients at risk of benefit dependency

GPs should identify patients who have 'frequent consultations' for emotional distress as a way of preventing incapacity benefit claims further down the line, a BMJ study suggests.

The paper said there is a ‘significant’ increase in the frequency of GP consultations for patients with mental health problems in the three years prior to them claiming incapacity benefit.
It said GPs were well-placed to identify people who are ‘vulnerable to becoming dependent on benefit’. But it added that once patients were identified ‘it is not clear what GPs can do to maintain these patients in work’.

‘Further work should concentrate on determining what outcomes are achieved by GPs who provide additional emotional or occupational support for patients identified as at risk of becoming dependent on long term benefits,' the researchers said.

The report also said that varying rates in benefits claims regionally are due to population differences. It goes against previous studies that have suggested that inconsistency in GPs decisions about sickness certification might be to blame for variations in the prevalence on incapacity benefits.

The paper concluded: ‘If general practitioners were issuing sickness certificates inappropriately, we would expect that some practices would have higher than expected rates of incapacity benefit claimants.

‘Our research, however, showed no evidence that this was the case.’

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