UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Plans to Strip GPs of Sick Note Powers

UK PM Sunak plans to strip GPs of sick note power, sparking debate on welfare reform, patient care, and the role of healthcare professionals.

Rafia Tasleem
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Plans to Strip GPs of Sick Note Powers

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Plans to Strip GPs of Sick Note Powers

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans to trial stripping general practitioners (GPs) of their power to issue sick notes, aiming to tackle what he calls the country's "sick note culture". The proposal, which would see specialist work and health professionals take over the responsibility of signing people off work, has received mixed reactions from doctors' unions and GPs.

Under the current system, employees can self-certify absence due to illness for seven days and qualify for sick pay, but need a fit note from their GP for longer absences. Sunak believes there is a "moral mission" to reform welfare and get more people back into work, as the pandemic has led to an 850,000 increase in economically inactive people due to long-term sickness, particularly among the young.

The British Medical Association (BMA) criticized Sunak's "hostile rhetoric" on the issue, stating that fit notes are carefully considered before being written. Dr. Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA's England GP committee, said: "Fit notes are carefully considered and issued only after a full assessment of a patient's condition and needs. They are an important tool that can help people return to work when they are able to."

Meanwhile, the Royal College of GPs acknowledged that issuing fit notes often forms part of a wider consultation with patients, and they are not against the idea due to high workloads. Some GPs expressed support for the plan, as it could reduce their workload, while others raised concerns about access to patient records and the potential for a "one-size-fits-all" approach that could negatively impact vulnerable individuals.

Why this matters: The proposed changes to the sick note system have broader implications for the UK's welfare system and labor force participation. With the country facing a rise in long-term illness and economic inactivity, particularly among younger people, the government is seeking ways to encourage more people to return to work. However, the plans have sparked debate about the role of GPs and the potential impact on patient care.

Adam Crampsie, a leading North East charity boss, criticized the Prime Minister's "stigmatizing and deeply harmful" rhetoric, arguing that the challenges people face in their lives cannot be separated from their mental health. He emphasized that investing in public services and clinical support is what would genuinely help people get back into work. As the government moves forward with its plans to reform the welfare system, it will need to balance the goal of increasing labor force participation with the concerns of healthcare professionals and the needs of vulnerable individuals.

Key Takeaways

  • UK PM Sunak plans to strip GPs of power to issue sick notes
  • Aims to tackle "sick note culture" and get more people back to work
  • Doctors' unions criticize the "hostile rhetoric" and importance of fit notes
  • Proposed changes could reduce GPs' workload but raise concerns about patient care
  • Debate over balancing labor force participation and supporting vulnerable individuals