GPs have limited knowledge of occupational health issues

GPs almost always believe that sickness absence is genuine and back the view that returning to work is beneficial, but admit to having little OH expertise, a government survey has concluded.

The study into how GPs work with patients on sick leave was commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of the evaluation of its Job Retention and Rehabilitation pilot scheme.

While the GPs surveyed viewed sickness absence as almost always genuine, they also believed the behaviour and motivation of patients was influenced by subjective reactions to the experience of illness, organisational culture and financial circumstances.

They generally believed a return to work would be beneficial to patients for a range of physical, social and psychological reasons, a view qualified [ie, unless or taking into account] where the work was poorly paid and of low status, and where the job itself caused or exacerbated the illness, said the DWP.

GPs also complained about a shortage of time during consultations, the fact they had limited OH expertise, and difficulties in providing continuity of care, highlighting the importance of preserving the doctor-patient relationship.

They felt these factors hindered the build up of in-depth knowledge about the patient, and constrained the provision of fitness for work advice.
While GPs made extensive referrals to other services within their own clinics and the wider NHS, it was rare for these to have a work rehabilitation focus, the survey added.

The Job Retention and Rehabilitation Pilot aimed to look how people could be helped back into employment through a health or work-
related early intervention.

Conducted in six areas, the trial began in April 2003 and ended in March this year, and involved 2,845 participants.
The main evaluation of the trial will be available at the end of the year, said the DWP.

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