Doctors want national OH service to tackle sickness absence

The British Medical Association has accused the government of encouraging a culture of sickness absence among UK workers.

Dr Peter Holden, senior committee member of the doctors’ professional body, said GPs were being “shot for being the messenger”. He called on government to invest in a nationwide occupational health (OH) service.

“The concept of GPs working with employers is a cop-out by government and industry from having a proper OH service, properly resourced,” he told delegates at the CBI/AXA Absence Management Conference last week.

Holden said GPs were currently the only adjudicators on workplace absence, and pointed out that they were not trained in occupational medicine. “Absence management is a manager’s responsibility,” he said.

He added that GPs were being overwhelmed by sickness absence cases, which got in the way of other, more pressing practice issues. “We are not here to back up the excuse culture,” he said.

Holden’s comments follow publication of the annual survey of 400 private firms by the CBI and insurer AXA, which found that sickness absence cost the UK economy £13.4bn last year.

In 2006, workers took an average of seven days off – a total of 175 million days – up from 6.6 days in 2005.

Holden said GPs hoped to remove doctors from sick certification or reporting requirements before the 28th day of incapacity.

Department for Work and Pensions minister Lord McKenzie said it was unfair to say that adjudication was only down to GPs, citing the introduction of Personal Capability Assessments for incapacity benefit claimants and the Freud review of welfare reform, which recommended more private sector involvement, as examples of how the government was changing the system.

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