Electronic sicknote plan triggers doctors’ fears of misuse by workers

GPs fear workers will create their own sicknotes under plans for an automated certification system.

The government is looking to trial the computer-based scheme to overcome the long-running problem of doctors’ handwriting. The electronic system could also encourage GPs to make better use of the ‘remarks’ section of the sicknote to help employers understand a workers’ illness or injury.

But Dr Peter Holden, chairman of the professional fees committee at the British Medical Association, told Personnel Today: “Electronic sicknotes are not practical. It is only a matter of time before someone finds a way to hack into a computer and make bogus sicknotes.”

Holden said he would discourage doctors from spending extra time on the remarks section of sicknotes as it was not their job to help employers.

But the Royal College of General Practitioners said it had been encouraging doctors to use the forms to tell bosses what patients could still do at work. Comments they could include are ‘fit for part-time work’ or ‘is likely to wait three months for a scan’, according to clinical development lead Sayeed Khan.

“I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen remarks put on a sick note in the last 15 years,” Khan said. “We have conducted workshops asking GPs to think about this issue and have had a positive reaction.”

Khan added that the reason for trialling electronic sicknotes was that “you can’t read doctors’ handwriting, it’s a real problem”.

The Department of Work and Pensions said there were plans for a trial of electronic sicknotes in South Wales. A spokesman said: “We are in the process of procuring the necessary software changes to be able to test the use of electronic sicknotes.”

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