Employers call for radical revamp of how GPs help get people with mental health problems back to work

Employers are calling for a radical revamp of the way in which GPs work to help people with mental health problems successfully return to work.

The call is based on findings in the latest quarterly Labour Market Outlook report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and professional services firm KPMG.

The report found that GPs are typically rated negatively by employers for the level of support they provide in helping people with mental health problems return to work. Almost 40% of employers rated GP support in this area as either very poor or fairly poor, compared to only 20% who rated GP support as good or very good.

The survey of 625 employers also showed that currently organisations receive medical reports from GPs on just 50% of employees off work with long-term mental health problems, even though seven in 10 employers reported they contacted GPs to ask them to provide such a report.

Employers said they supported a range of proposals for revamping how GPs services are delivered:

  • A revamped Med 3 sicknote, including more information on phased return to work – 77% of employers thought this would be effective or fairly effective.
  • Improved training for GPs on ‘fitness for work’ issues – 77% of respondents rated this proposal as effective or fairly effective.
  • Changes to GPs contracts to incentivise closer working with patients’ employers and provision of advice on phased return to work – supported by 70% of respondents as effective or fairly effective.
  • Employment advisers in GP surgeries – supported by 60% of HR practitioners as likely to be effective compared to 13% who thought the opposite.
  • An electronic sicknote system to provide faster and clearer communication between GPs and employers – 52% rated this proposal as likely to be effective or fairly effective.

Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: “GPs are letting down patients signed off work with mental health problems by not communicating effectively with employers. All the evidence shows that a phased return to work can play a hugely beneficial role in the recovery of people suffering with this kind of illness.

“Employers are willing to do their bit, but they need support and better communication from GPs to facilitate appropriately phased returns to work.”

The Department for Work and Pensions is currently looking at ways of improving the support GPs offer to facilitate employees’ return to work.

Employment charity Shaw Trust said it fully supported the report’s recommendations.

Tim Cooper, Shaw Trust’s managing director, said: “Alongside this, we believe there is a need for employers to do more to keep their workplaces healthy and support their staff. In the 21st century, there is no place for the continued stigma surrounding mental ill health.”

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