Doctors are signing 103 people off sick EVERY DAY in South Tyneside

GPs in South Tyneside are signing off 103 people per day . Picture by PA Archive/PA Images
GPs in South Tyneside are signing off 103 people per day . Picture by PA Archive/PA Images

Health chiefs have welcomed changes which will, on average, save doctors in South Tyneside over 100 jobs a day.

GPs in the borough sign an average of 103 fit notes every day according to the latest NHS figures - making a total of of 37,472 notes between July 2017 and June last year.

Dr David Hambleton

Dr David Hambleton

But the rules are to be changed to allow other health workers to sign people off sick, reducing the workload faced by doctors.

Dr David Hambleton, chief executive for NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) welcomed the change.

He said: “At a time of increasing workload for GPs, we welcome any suggestions which could reduce the demands made on their time.

“Where an individual is already under the care of another clinician they may be better placed than the GP to identify when they are fit to return to work, without the need for further appointments or delays.”

The Department for Work and Pensions says it will legislate to allow other health professionals to certify people as unable to work.

People in work need a fit note, previously called a sick note, if they are off work for more than seven days. Up to that point they can self-certify that they are unwell.

Across England, 5.7 million fit notes were handed out over the 12 months to the end of June.

In South Tyneside, the average monthly rate of fit notes was 3,227 per 100,000 working age people registered with a GP.

The most common reasons that doctors signed people off work were mental and behavioural disorders, particularly stress, and muscoskeletal conditions, such as back problems.

Of the 37,472 notes signed over the 12 months in South Tyneside, 6,006 were issued for mental health issues and 2,768 for back problems.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We want to reduce the burden on GPs and that’s why we intend to legislate for the extension of fit note certification to other healthcare professionals. We will work with the NHS on this.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It is vital that a robust system is in place to ensure people are fit for work, and if they are not, then they have ready access to the appropriate care and services to improve their quality of life.

“At a time when our workload in general practice is escalating in both volume and complexity – and when patients are waiting longer and longer for appointments – we would certainly welcome exploring whether other highly-skilled clinical members of the practice team can share some of these responsibilities.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said that if another health professional, such as a physiotherapist, was treating a patient, they should be able to certify fitness for work rather than additionally involvlng a doctor.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA GP committee, said: “At a time when admin has become increasingly burdensome in general practice, compounding existing workload issues, it makes perfect sense for the healthcare professional seeing the patient to issue fit notes where needed.”