Workers 'Taking 9million Bogus Sick Days a Year'

Article excerpt

FOUR in ten requests to doctors for sick notes could be bogus, according to a study.

The report claims that up to nine million of the 22million requests made are suspicious - an average of 577 for each GP.

Another survey found that an estimated three million workers had considered asking their GP for bogus certificates.

The study of NHS family doctors comes amid growing concern about Britain's sicknote culture, with many GPs agreeing to write the notes on demand rather than act as 'health police'.

With a large number of complaints - such as stress, depression and back pain - doctors only have the patient's word to go on.

Official figures show a record 5.9million workers at any time are too sick to go to work.

Around 166million sick days are taken each year - an average of 6.8 days for every employee - at an estimated cost to business of [pounds sterling]11billion.

The number of people claiming long-term sickness benefits - those who have been ill for 'Not for doctors to police health' more than a year - has risen from 500,000 in 1980 to two million today.

The bill for sickness and disability payouts is expected to hit [pounds sterling]25billion next year, up from [pounds sterling]17.7billion in 1997.

Although sick pay regulations do not require employees to obtain notes from GPs unless they have been off work for more than seven days, many employers demand them even for minor ailments such as colds and headaches in an attempt to cut absenteeism.

The survey, by Norwich Union Healthcare, found doctors believe a quarter of the requests they received are 'questionable' and nearly a fifth of them were invalid.

In total, 41 per cent of requests could be bogus, the survey suggests.

The most frequent reasons given are back pain, depression, stress at work and elsewhere and flu. More than a fifth of the 255 GPs interviewed said 20 per cent of their patients were not working because of health reasons.

Dr Ann Robinson, one of the respondents, said: 'GPs want to treat genuinely ill patients and don't want to act as policemen, identifying those who are claiming bogus sick notes.

'Employers need to be more flexible with their workforce and hospital services need to provide fast-track diagnostic and treatment centres so people can get back to work as quickly as possible.

' It's well- known that the longer you're off work, the harder it is to get back.' In another study for Norwich Union, an estimated three million workers admitted asking a GP for a bogus sick note, with twice as many men as women prepared to throw a 'sickie'.

The Health of the Nation Index survey of 1,000 adults found the main reasons workers would give to get a sick note were a personal crisis, too much stress in the workplace, having a holiday request refused and tiredness.

The British Medical Association wants GPs to be freed from the task of writing sick notes for workers.

A spokesman said: 'It is not the job of family doctors to police occupational health for employers.

'Employers are telling staff they have to have a note from their doctor and this is placing an enormous burden on GPs.

Doctors are placed in a difficult-position but are likely to accept the patient's word. …