Editor’s comment: The role of GPs

GPs are a recurring theme in this month’s issue. While Dame Carol Black’s review proposes a broader role for GPs, research by OH nurse Judith Sinnott shows that awareness of work and health issues among GPs is still poor. On the other hand, a government survey shows progress, with about half of GPs aware of the benefits of work to health.

Even so, OH nurse Graham Johnson argues line managers should be less willing to accept the advice of GPs when it contradicts the opinion of the OH adviser. Forthcoming guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Evidence may stop GPs being an obstacle to the return to work of employees, which is too often the case.

Dr Gordon Parker, president of the doctors’ group the Society of Occupational Medicine, agrees that the interface between OH physicians and GPs is crucial, but recognises that OH still lacks credibility with GPs, who do not always communicate properly with OH. And Dr Richard Preece argues that OH specialists should become less obsessed with GP reports. They can get the information they need from other sources, while asking a GP for a report delays OH decisions.

Nevertheless, GPs have to be more engaged with health and work issues if the government’s objectives for working-age people are to be realised. While the debate continues on how much employers should rely on GP reports or sickness absence certificates, all sides can at least agree on one thing: communication between GPs and OH has to improve.

Noel O’Reilly, editor, Occupational Health

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