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SICK NOTE

25-03-2008

The government’s latest crackdown on Britain’s “sicknote culture” has got Lynn Hawthorne reaching for the medicine cabinet. She reckons a bullying management culture and failures in the NHS contribute to the problem.

There have been many rumblings in the press in recent times about how much it is ‘costing’ the country to keep people off sick from work.

The implications from the powers-that-be seem to be that the vast majority of sick leave is unnecessary, even faked. Those on disability allowances will be closely monitored and will have to prove that they are actually ill or incapacitated.

This appears to discredit the opinions of doctors across the country who sign sick notes for patients who have visited them.

The other day it was claimed that sick notes ‘cost £100 billion which is equal to the cost of running the NHS for a year.’

That’s quite a statistic and there’s no denying that there are fakers and malingerers out there who fool doctors by ‘displaying’ symptoms they do not really have and these tricksters should not receive money from the State under false pretences.

But shouldn’t we be asking the question of why there is so much sickness and absence from work in this country?

I’ve criticised poor and bullish management in the past and stress is definitely a major contributor to the amount of people who find it difficult to face going to work under such pressure. I’ve been there. I’ve cracked up, spent months on anti-depressants (and am still trying to regain my memory!) and have battled to get well again, so I understand those people.

But surely one of other reasons is the amount of time people have to wait for operations and treatment in our hospitals. Despite all this Government smokescreen about waiting lists being reduced, the figures are undeniably massaged to fit unrealistic targets and it is the public which suffers.

Take my husband’s case. He needs a cartilage operation on his knee, a common, minor procedure. He went for a scan in October 2007 and is still nowhere near treatment. Because his knee regularly swells up to twice the size, is stiff and often gives way beneath him, his doctor has deemed him unfit to work, as his job involves a lot of short-distance driving and getting in and out of the car. His first sick note was in December.

The hospital sent his scan results to the wrong consultant, so they did the rounds of the hospital until he finally got an appointment in January. On that particular day, his results had been sent up to a ward instead of the clinic and had to be hunted down.

He was promised that he would be on the waiting list for day cases and would also be put on the cancellations list. He then heard absolutely nothing.

In early March, he rang the consultant’s secretary to find that the day case and cancellation list were actually one and the same thing and he wasn’t on the list at all. No, he was on the longer list, for admission to the surgical ward and he might get an operation in April. And he might not.

The hospital has blamed sickness of staff (interesting!) and staff shortages for the delay, but this delay has consequences.

One is that his employer is getting anxious about the length of the sick leave and is applying pressure for him to return to work, despite the fact that nothing has changed medically, except that the knee is getting worse.

Secondly, the pressure put on his back by walking awkwardly or with the aid of a stick means that he has to pay to see a chiropractor at £34 a time. And the other knee is suffering, so by the time he gets one knee sorted, it will be time to operate on the other!

I’m all for getting people into work that suits them and that they are able to do and I’m sure that people would much rather be busy and useful than stuck at home, but we must take care when bandying about statistics without putting them into context.

Not everyone who is off sick is a faker and there may be many genuine reasons why people are given sick notes by their GP’s.

Perhaps the government should get the NHS in order before it starts throwing brickbats at the very people who, through taxation, actually fund it.

Has Britain got a "sicknote culture"? And if so, who's to blame? Leave a comment on The Stirrer Forum.

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