A review commissioned by the government is recommending that the task of assessing whether people are too sick to work should no longer be carried out by GPs but by an independent service.
About 300,000 people a year miss work because of long-term sickness. One of the authors of the report said a survey of GPs suggested three-quarters of them had admitted signing off patients for reasons other than their physical health.
The welfare minister, Lord Freud, told Today presenter John Humphrys that this is part of a long-term strategy to get people back to work.
"We are embarking on the biggest structural reform of the welfare system that it's seen since it was invented," he explained.
"And what we're doing we're rebuilding the benefit system by introducing the universal credit so people will always be incentivised to work. We've created the work programme so we have tailored support for people and now we're looking at these recommendations which say that if we get some early intervention for people when they first have health problems then we can really help people not fall out of the market in the first place."
But the deputy chair of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, insisted that most people want to work.
"If this process is to be a genuinely supportive, occupational health assessment that makes recommendations as to how an individual employee might return to work, what changes could take place in the workplace, that could be a helpful process.
"If it's a punitive process that's simply about getting people back to work inappropriately then it will be a damaging process."
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