Employees on long-term sick leave have to be assessed by independent doctors on their fitness to work instead of general practitioners, according to a new government proposal.
The recommendations have been made by an Independent Review Into Sickness Absence, in a report to be published soon.
A review by the independent body is believed to have concluded that GPs are not well placed to judge the kind of work people with long term illnesses can do. It recommends a new government-funded service to assess the work capabilities of employees after prolonged sickness and to develop strategies to reintroduce them to employment.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions statistics, there are 300,000 reported claims of sickness-related benefits. The department's estimates show that working age ill-health costs the government an estimated £60 billion in welfare, lost taxes and treatment.
The proposal is likely to invite controversies as there are criticisms about the system being flawed with a number of instances where decisions being reversed on appeal. But the official claim is that only around one in seven of those on disability and sickness allowances were assessed as entirely unfit to work, reports The Independent.
Meanwhile, the proposal was welcomed by the British Medical Association. "GPs have a long-term relationship with their patients and it puts them in a difficult situation if they are being asked to tell a patient that they're wrong and are fit to work. GPs are often not best placed to assess what someone can and cannot do. It is far better if a trained occupational health doctor does that," said BMA.
The Independent Review of Sickness Absence was commissioned by Carol Black, the government's director for health and work, and David Frost, former director of the British Chambers of Commerce. Though the report is about to be out next week, the government is expected to go by public reaction, and other options before announcing its final response.