GPs to hand over the reins to OH advisors

Family doctors will give up issuing sicknotes within three years under
radical plans being drawn up by the Government and the medical profession.

Instead, company doctors and occupational health (OH) professionals could
become the first port of call for sick employees.

The deal, part of the new GPs contract agreed between the British Medical
Association (BMA) and the Department of Health, will see family doctors give up
sickness certification by 1 April 2006.

The change is due to be formally launched in the new year, with the detail
of how it will work in practice thrashed out during six pilot schemes, which
will be assessed by academics at the University of York.

Smaller firms that currently do not have access to OH schemes will be
expected to buy in specialist certification services, perhaps from NHS Plus,
although it has yet to be decided how much, or even if, they will be reimbursed
for this.

OH professionals have given the plan a cautious response, warning they will
need to recruit many more occupational health advisers to make it work.

Sheila Tilley, an OH adviser with Interact Health Management, said there
would need to be very effective firewalls between OH and employers, so staff
felt able to bring medical problems to their attention. "There will need
to be clear guidelines so everyone knows what they are doing. It could be very
difficult to achieve."

Dr Anne Price, head of OH at Marks & Spencer, said there could also be a
difficultly managing expectations, as patients might expect treatment as well
as a diagnosis – something OH will not be qualified to dispense.

Paul Robertson-Marriott, HR director for Quebecor World (UK), said that as
long as the detail stood up, HR would probably welcome the change.

"Clearly, the current arrangements are unsatisfactory. This seems like
an encouraging and promising way forward," he said.

By Nic Paton

Have your say…  

The answers you gave us will help Personnel Today and Doctor
make a compelling case to demand the Government changes the sickness
certification system. The two publications will now present the survey findings
and the reports each magazine has printed on the matter to the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office’s public sector workload team has already
looked into the matter, and has recommended that companies do more to relieve
GPs of the burden of sick notes.

However, the joint survey shows that 82 per cent of GPs and 58
per cent of HR professionals want the responsibility taken away from GPs.
Doctor and Personnel Today will ask the Cabinet Office to act on that finding.

If you would like to add comments to the case we will present,
please contact,
or write to Doctor or Personnel Today, Reed Business Information, Quadrant
House, the Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS.

Feedback from the profession at Harrogate

The issuing of sick notes looks set
to be taken out of doctors’ hands and the responsibility given to HR and OH.

Do you think HR and OH will be able to cope with that new role?

Mark Green
HR project manager, Dreigiau, HR consultants

– I think we have enough to do as it is. If you start moving
the responsibility for certifying sickness to companies, then you are going to
need more occupational GPs and costs are going to increase. I don’t think it is
practical at the moment, not with the amount of red tape and the costs.

Linda Houze
Corporate HR manager, States of Jersey

– I think a lot of people have sick-notes that don’t reflect
why they are actually off. There is still a stigma attached to stress.
Certainly in my organisation, people would persuade the doctor they have a
stomach upset or another problem just to hide the fact they are stressed. I
don’t know that we are equipped to deal with sicknotes. I don’t think we should
make those judgements. Many of us will not have the skills to identify what the
problems really are. I wouldn’t want to get involved with the issuing of

Mr Sukhjinder Gandoo
Employee relations manager, S & A Foods

– It is going to be more of an admin task for HR as a whole.
Getting sicknotes from doctors, though feasible at the moment, is causing
certain problems for HR because sicknotes do come in willy-nilly. It is an
admin role for HR and, increasingly, occupational nurses and doctors are
becoming prominent in the HR field. It is worth thinking about, but the whole
admin aspect and the increasing costs will be a problem, especially for small
and medium sized enterprises. It is not practical at the moment.

Val Turner
HR manager, Mayflex

– I don’t think HR is trained to assess sickness and we would
need a professional body to look into how we manage that. I don’t think it is
practical. The workload within HR generally is already getting a lot larger
with the increased contributions they are making to business.

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