A third (31%) of fit notes with a known diagnosis were for mental and behavioural disorders, according to statistics from two thirds of GP practices in England published by NHS Digital.
The second most common reason was diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, which accounted for 18% of notes.
These were followed in a distant third place at 9% by ‘symptoms, signs and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings’.
Fit notes for diseases of the respiratory system – which accounted for 7% of notes – show a clear seasonal variation, rising slightly from August to December before increasing again to hit a peak from January-March.
GP fit notes
Just 7% of notes were classified as ‘may be fit for work’, with four out of five of these going on to recommend an adaptation in the workplace, working hours or duties.
The ‘experimental’ statistics, which cover from 1 December 2014 to 31 March 2017, also show fit notes for mental health are the most likely to be for longer periods, with 22% lasting for more than 12 weeks.
Over this two-year and three-month period, the data show that GPs issued an average of one fit note per 48 patients aged 18-65 per month. Throughout the last financial year, a third were for five weeks or longer.
The figures are the first on fit notes published by NHS Digital, which will henceforth release data on the scheme quarterly.