Headlines: February 21st, 2008

GPs will soon be issuing ‘well notes’ as well as ‘sick notes’. This move, sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions, will encourage GPs to offer fitness to work advice to patients and employers as part of the Government’s plans to reduce the 2.64 million people on incapacity benefit.

The evidence shows that a phased return to work can play a beneficial role in the recovery of people suffering from illness. Work has a huge part to play in the early treatment and rehabilitation of people experiencing mental ill health. Moving away from a ‘sick note’, towards a ‘well note’ culture has the potential to speed the recovery process.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development revealed widespread employer support for the initiative. Employers believe that the government must take firm action if it is to achieve its objectives on welfare reform. This includes ensuring that GPs are fully aware of the crucial role they have to play in working with employers to prevent people slipping in to long-term sickness absence.

Employers are also calling for a radical revamp of the way in which GPs work to help people with mental health problems successfully return to work. GPs are typically rated negatively by employers for the level of support they provide. Almost 40 per cent of employers rate GP support in this area as either very poor or fairly poor compared to only 20 per cent who rate GP support as good or very good.

Research by the Institute also shows that employers currently receive medical reports from GPs for just 50 per cent of employees off work with long term mental health problems. But seven in ten employers report they contact GPs to ask them to provide such a report.