A recent report published by NHS England stated that one in three ‘fit notes’ given out by GPs are for mental health problems. This makes it the most common reason for people to take time off work, ahead of musculoskeletal diseases (Silver, 2017).
Introduced in April 2010 across England, Wales and Scotland the ‘fit note’ (Med3 form), a statement of fitness for work, replaced the previous medical statement of forty years, confirming a patient’s inability to work. This change allowed the GP to use the option of ‘may be fit for work’ and to provide advice on how work may be resumed, considering what adjustments or adaptations to the job role or workplace would be required (NHS Digital, 2017).
In 2012 a project was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide GPs with the ability to produce computer-generated ‘fit note’ (eMed3) with the ability to collect the aggregated data generated. This data has allowed NHS Digital to produce its first statistical publication, presenting data from 1 December 2014 to 31 March 2017.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses” There was a 14% rise in notes relating to anxiety and stress between 2015-16 and 2016-17 (NHS Digital, 2017; Silver, 2017).
The NHS Digital report also revealed that fit notes for mental health problems were being issued for longer periods of time than any other types of illness, for example one in five mental health sick notes were issued for longer than twelve weeks, compared to only 3% of notes for diseases of the respiratory system.
Dr Boardman, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said not enough was being done to facilitate a person’s return to work. Suggesting that GPs should work with the person to personalise their ‘fit note’ with a staggered return to work or agreeing specific goals. Dr Boardman also suggested that the data “may underestimate the scale of the problem” as discrimination can mean those with mental health issues are out of the labour force completely (Boardman, 2017).
A spokeswoman from the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“We’re helping thousands of people to remain in, or get back into work after a period of ill-health. We’re determined to go further, and these statistics will provide us with a better understanding of why people take sickness absence in different areas across the country” (Silver, 2017).
Boardman, J. (2017). Rise in sick notes due to mental health alarming. [online] Available at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mediacentre/pressreleases2017/riseinsicknotesduetomh.aspx [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017]
NHS Digital (2017). Fit notes issued by GP practices, England. December 2014 – March 2017. [online] Available at: http://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB30068 [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
Silver, K. (2017). One in three ‘sick notes’ for mental health, says NHS. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41124238?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/1fcabdea-356b-4ee5-9159-e99bcaa8aa90/depression&link_location=live-reporting-story. Last accessed 12th Sep 2017.