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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Sick notes 'should be scrapped'
By Ray Dunne
BBC News Online health staff in Llandudno

Some 20m sick notes are written each year
The days of going to the doctor for a sick note could be a thing of the past if the British Medical Association gets its way.

Doctors at the BMA's annual conference in Llandudno believe patients should be allowed to write their own sick notes.

Around 20m sick notes are written by doctors in the UK each year. However, as many as 5m are bogus.

Doctors said it was a waste of time and voted unanimously for the current system to be scrapped.

At the moment, most companies allow workers to self-certify for seven days. However, many require a sick note from a doctor for any further days off.

People claiming incapacity benefits also need to provide a sick note to show they are entitled to money.

This is not unnecessary work
Department for Work and Pensions
It is estimated that UK workers take a total of 166 million sick days each year - around 6.8 days per employee.

The most common reasons for sick notes are stress, depression and backache.

Bogus notes

Dr Susan Robson, chair of the BMA's occupational health committee, slammed the current system.

"One quarter of diagnoses do not accurately reflect the cause," she told the BMA conference.

"The demand for notes is a huge and unnecessary burden on a GP's time."

She added: "The present system serves no one well."

Dr Robson called on the government to introduce a new system, which would allow patients to write their own sick notes.

She said spot checks could be carried out to see if they were telling the truth - similar to those carried out on people who do their own tax returns.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said the current system was not working.

"It really is not the most appropriate or fit for purpose system," he said.

The government is running a number of pilot schemes to see if there are workable alternatives to the current system, such as allowing other health professional to write sick notes.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions played down claims that writing sick notes was a major burden for GPs.

"On average a GP will issue less than 10 sick notes a week and a recent major study on Merseyside suggested that the number may be even less.

"Furthermore, this is not unnecessary work - it is an integral part of the GPs' clinical management of patients," she said.

"A recent ONS omnibus survey of people of working age found that the vast majority expect to be able to turn to their own doctor for help and advice on this matter."

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