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According to the Telegraph, GP’s are writing sick notes for people that aren’t sick!

Now this is based on a survey of 4100 and roughly 80% of them said they had done this. They don’t mean sick notes of course; they mean the ‘fit’ notes that instead are meant to tell what a person can do. So for example a person that’s unable to walk could answer the telephone. But if he can’t get access to public transport (or he’s lost his motability car thanks to DLA changes) he’s got no chance of doing that job. In other words, it doesn’t represent the reality or the totality of a person’s experience. I for example could be helped to work from home, but that isn’t an option. Instead it is extrapolated that if I can work from home, I can work; period.

It’s not a huge survey and of course being reported in the popular press means it suffers from spin and an agenda. However I can understand the point being made. But what are doctors to do? If someone who has been sanctioned and left penniless turns up, what are they to do – wait till they need hospitalisation because they haven’t eaten in three months? Wait until they’ve ended up addicted to crack or are sleeping rough facing a life of crime through desperation? Doctors are issuing notes not because the world is as binary and simplistic as the Tories would have us believe, but because life is complex and expensive; this is the only option to help people.

I say I can understand this because this is the position the Work Programme, and thereby the DWP, has put me in. As a result of the sheer inflexibility of the WP and their lack of choice in being able to help (so they say) or recognise individual circumstances, I’ve had to ask my GP for a sick note. All along I have said that it isn’t that I can’t work at all, it’s that I have problems that make functioning in the system as it is extremely difficult. So what choice do I have but to ask? I know he isn’t happy about it; in fact because ATOS still have yet to get back in touch I’ve had to ask for a second and potentially a third (I don’t fancy my chances). Maybe they haven’t contacted me (and likely many others) because it’s keeps the results manageable. In reality it means being left in limbo: the Work Programme has failed me utterly and, as I’ve said many times, the help promised as an ESA claimant hasn’t materialised and that is why I claimed ESA!

Doctors are being used by this government to do its dirty work and unfortunately they don’t seem to realise this enough. Some think that it’s down to ATOS to sort out the malingerers and are happy to sign people off believing the problem is out of their hands. I’ve seen a GP with that attitude; I couldn’t really fault him for it that is what ATOS is supposed to do (actually what it’s really supposed to do is kick people off benefits according to DWP targets they don’t admit). Of course many doctors are probably Tory voters and so don’t really understand what’s going on. Others may be in favour of the current government and its policies, even on the NHS. Others still, like most of society, simply take the superficial view and regard us as lazy and weak willed. In all these cases the real problem is being ignored.

The article concludes with the following gems: 

"Overall, employee sick leave costs the UK economy £15 billion in lost output, the Government estimates.”

I’ve no idea what brand of tea leaves they divined this from but it looks like a massive guesstimate to me. How can they possibly know this? More importantly, if lost output – i.e. money – is so important then the government would surely be motivated to crack down on tax abuse? No? Quelle Surprise!

“An independent inquiry in 2011 concluded that many people with “manageable” conditions like stress or back pain are effectively being signed off work for long periods when they could actually do some sort of work.”

Who is to say what is or isn’t manageable? One person’s ache is another person’s agony. If you are suffering from pain in the workplace, even if it’s from something as ‘trivial’ as a bad back then you aren’t going to be very productive. Now maybe the employer can be convinced to equip his workplace with suitable furniture (if that’s enough), but more likely he’ll just employ someone that isn’t a ‘whinger’ or a ‘skiver’. That’s the reality, and that just means further marginalisation of the ‘weaker’ parts of society. It’s the law of the jungle that we ought to have transcended by now. I’ve already said I could work from home, but you try getting help with such things. Think the JC+ will help? The Work Programme? Hell no! 

“In 2011, David Cameron promised to change sick-note rules to strip GPs of the power to sign workers off sick, declaring “We need to end the something for nothing culture.”

What more is there to say? When Cameron can actually articulate what this pernicious and loaded phrase ‘something for nothing culture’ means I might listen. Until then it remains another barrier to progress. People are told this phrase and all discussion is frozen with most people simply accepting that people on benefits are given what sounds like a blank cheque, never mind the hoops people have to jump through, never mind the callousness rampant in those operating the system on his behalf. Forcing people to apply for work, under the guise that stopping people writing sick notes is ‘getting Britain working’ is laughable: it doesn’t create work nor does it compel those that seek staff to employ anyone other than whomever they choose for whatever reason they choose. 

“In January, the Coalition announced the creation of a new independent “assessment and advisory service” that will provide occupational health assessments for small employers whose staff are signed off sick for long periods.”

This is the real danger – handing the entry point to ESA/sickness benefits over to ATOS. This is something hinted at – and not particularly subtly – by Grayling before he went to prison – sorry, I mean became minister of prisons! The government clearly doesn’t like anyone getting a sick note, or a fit note, and I’m sure they fully intend for ATOS to handle both ends of the system: the first point of claiming and the assessment. It’s bad enough that assessments are even needed – isn’t that what doctors and specialists are for, not profiteering target driven IT organisations? If our doctors aren’t annoyed about this, if only from a sense of professional respect, then they are lost to us.


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