The cost-of-living crisis is causing people to refuse fit or sick notes from their GPs because they cannot afford to take time off, and is putting others off going to see an optician or optometrist.
A poll of more than 1,000 people by the Association of Optometrists found two-thirds (62%) of those who wear glasses or contact lenses were “putting off” going to see an optometrist due to concerns about the cost.
Two-fifths (36%) across all ages said they were wearing out-of-date prescriptions and a fifth (19%) admitted they had to ‘make do’ with self-repaired broken glasses.
Adam Sampson, chief executive of the association, said: “Our research shows that people are being forced to make decent vision an optional ‘extra’ – a truly concerning reality.
“It’s imperative that action is taken now to minimise the long-term damage to people’s eyesight. A simple yet effective step is increasing the NHS optical voucher now to reflect the impact of inflation and to help the millions of people who are struggling to cope with rising costs.”
Separately, Dr Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has warned that, as well as patients refusing sick notes, more are experiencing asthma attacks or other serious breathing problems because they cannot afford to heat their homes.
Cost of living crisis
Others are reporting deteriorating mental health because of financial stress. Soaring food costs are leading to a rise in fatigue, mouth ulcers and weak muscles.
So many patients are presenting with complex physical and psychological problems related to poverty, domestic violence, childhood abuse or poor housing that GPs are suffering psychologically from their inability to take the requisite action, she told The Guardian newspaper.
“Recently I’ve had patients refusing sick notes because they can’t afford not to work. Quite often, when it’s clear that somebody needs some time off, they won’t take it,” said Dr Hawthorne, who works as a GP in Wales.
“These are people who ideally, medically, should not be at work [because] they have a chronic condition such as asthma or diabetes, but quite often mental health problems, quite severe mental health problems, I [see] some cases that really do require a bit of sick note peace and quiet to try and help them get better.
“I’ve been really surprised in the last year that when I’ve offered a sick note they’ve said: ‘Oh no, no, I can’t take time off. I need the money from work.’ They’ve refused. They say: ‘I need to keep working to earn and to feed myself and my family.’ I don’t take it personally, of course, but I feel sad for people because for a few minutes you enter their lives and see that it’s really tough,” she added.
Those refusing sick notes are mainly young to middle-aged adults, including people who work in call centres, but it is also seen in people with young families and older people, Dr Hawthorne told the newspaper.