Thousands more fit notes were issued by GPs in England in the second quarter of last year, including a 13.5% increase in diagnoses for mental health issues.
Some 1.4 million fit notes were issued by GPs between July and September 2017 – 74,704 more than those issued in the same quarter the previous year – according to NHS Digital figures.
NHS Digital said this roughly equated to one fit note per 48 patients aged 18-65 every month.
The number of diagnoses for mental and behavioural disorders increased 13.5% during this period, compared to the same quarter in 2016/17.
The number of fit notes issued for mental health conditions have been on the up for a number of years. They accounted for a third of all fit notes written by GPs in England between December 2014 and March 2017.
Fit notes – also known as the statement of fitness for work or Med3 – were introduced in 2010 with the aim of allowing doctors to give advice to their patients about the impact their health condition might have on their fitness to work.
The note is issued after the first seven days of sickness absence if a GP considers that a patient’s health will be affected by their job. It also provide GPs with a means of suggesting adjustments to a patient’s role or work environment.
A survey carried out by GPs’ publication Pulse found that 21% of GPs said employers did not follow the advice given on their fit notes.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said: “This is yet another indicator showing the workload pressures GPs are facing as they strive to respond to demand from their patients, and in particular the growing number of people living with stress, anxiety and depression.
“Despite this, mental health funding has lagged behind, exacerbating the problem.”
NHS Digital said 6.6% of the fit notes issued in the second quarter of 2017/18 were classified as “may be fit for work”, compared to 6.5% in the same period the previous year.
Some 35.2% of fit notes covered a period of five weeks or longer, compared to 34.4% in the second quarter of 2016/17.