We will have to get used to calling the sicknote the ‘well note’ following the recent announcement by health secretary Alan Johnson that GPs will have to stop signing people off sick, and instead write notes about the patient’s capacity to carry out workplace tasks.
A lot of OH practitioners feel sceptical about whether the well note will work. A letter to this journal from one OH adviser describes a scenario many of you will recognise: “I have tried to get the GP involved in early return with support, with not luck. This year, I am trying a new tack. Instead of writing to a GP to ask whether he will support any restricted early return and getting absolute silence, I am now writing to tell them I am arranging restricted early return and if they feel it’s inappropriate, they can contact me.”
The Jiscmail networking website has hosted a lively debate on this issue, raising many questions. Dr Gordon Parker, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, argues: “The real issue is not getting GPs to do something ‘different’, but helping GPs to access support for their patients who can (and want to) return to some form of work. Both GPs and patients need to access support for their patients that occupational health doctors and nurses offer.”
In the government’s defence, OH doctors and nurses are in short supply. If the well note can at least stop GPs being an obstacle to return to work, it is worth supporting. At the moment, that is a big ‘if’.
Noel O’Reilly, editor