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Turner: Doctors pressured over sickness benefits

Turner: Doctors pressured over sickness benefits

News that Steve Maharey has asked his officials to talk to doctors about the number of patients diagnosed as too sick to work has been welcomed by United Future deputy leader Judy Turner, even if it comes long after she warned him of GPs being pressured by patients.

“A number of doctors have told me that they are increasingly being asked to sign-off on claims by potential beneficiaries that they suffer from fairly intangible or subjective disorders, such as stress, depression, back pain and even drug addiction,” Mrs Turner said.

This backs figures, which show that of the total increase in the number of sickness beneficiaries by a third since 1999, more than half are due to psychological conditions, which make up the biggest category of sickness benefits.

“This places GPs in a potentially difficult position. They can either do as the patient asks - which is the easy option - or refuse, inviting potential conflict with the patient.”

“They may then lose that patient and their family, which means a loss of income. The patient may then exaggerate their symptoms to a new GP to get the forms are signed, which in turn compromises the patient’s care.”

“Since GPs are primarily concerned with the well-being of their patients, I suspect some would rather sign the form rather than deny them an income.”

United Future has advocated referral to a specialist to diagnose psychological conditions. This would help ensure that patients receive treatment, and not just an assessment for a medical certificate.

“Conditions such as stress or depression are difficult for GPs to diagnose, as they have to rely on subjective reporting, and can only really make an accurate assessment if they are familiar with the patient’s case history.”

Mrs Turner questioned any wholesale return to the ‘designated doctor’ scheme for sickness beneficiaries.

“Invalid beneficiaries already have to see designated doctors, and their numbers have also increased at an alarming rate.

“It might be better to use designated doctors to offer a second opinion on the original diagnosis before a benefit is approved.”

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