It is only “a matter of time” before health at work becomes a proper part of the GP syllabus, a leading workplace health expert has predicted, as pressure for change over the issuing of sicknotes and access by employees to primary care increases.
Dr Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at engineering and manufacturing employers’ organisation the EEF, told Occupational Health that a series of half-day workshops for GPs about workplace health issues, which were run over the summer, had proved popular.
But the way GPs go about issuing sicknotes has come under the spotlight as never before. The Confederation of British Industry in September attacked GPs as being “outdated and rigid”, and having little appreciation of, or interest in, the needs of employers to get people back into work.
About 3.5 million working days were lost because of the inflexibility of GP appointments and the sicknote system, costing the economy £1bn, it argued. And disability insurer Unum has complained that many GPs lack understanding of the relative impact of sicknotes and the resultant length of time away from work.
The government’s interim review of the NHS last month, led by surgeon turned health minister Lord Darzi, put improved access to GPs by workers at its heart.
The review said at least half of GP surgeries should open during evenings and weekends, and that there should be 150 easily accessible health centres, which would be open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
Health secretary Alan Johnson said the intention was to improve access to GP services “so that more people can see a GP where they want to, and at a time they want to”.