Dr Teck Khong is an Approved List Candidate who contested Bradford North at the 2005 General Election. He is a Board Member of the Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group.
For the past 30 years as a GP, I have been dismayed and perplexed by the way in which the sick note has been abused as a substitute for earned income and its impact on the morale of those with integrity and who have decent work ethics. The announcement today that GPs will be stripped of their role in certification of those with so-called long-term sickness is overdue but welcome news, with a few important provisos.
I have written in this section of ConHome and argued with Conservatives, with my professional colleagues, and in public, that the system for sickness certification and the linked award of financial benefits were both in desperate need of a major overhaul. It is politically correct that policy reflects government responsibility to preserve the moral well-being of those they govern, and in a democratic and compassionate society ensure equity across all sections of the community. I often hear patients express their disapproval of those who they have seen living life to the full, enjoying all the perks of being certified sick and undertaking all sorts of activities apart from earning a living as they claim benefits. Only this week I signed, after much heated argument with three patients, sick notes for them when they were clearly capable of working. In one particular case, a single-parent woman in her late thirties who has never worked claimed that her obesity made activity demanded by various jobs offered to her difficult to fulfill. She also said that without uprated benefit payments, her children would suffer. Such cases of long-term sickness are not the exception; they are commonplace. Even worse are those who have been through emotional crises and who after a time away from employment, become demotivated and shelter behind the badge of prescribed anti-depressants.
The irony of the infinite examples of inappropriate sick notes being used as currency is the legion of brave people who despite their profound physical and medical disabilities, or who have past their retirement age, still exhibit unimpeachable determination and impressive vigour by continuing in active employment. There are those, who despite social calamities, claw their way back to maintain their self-respect for financial independence by resuming employment after a short period of absence. There are others who lost their jobs yet rise above their adversities and retrain for other forms of employment.
By removing the misplaced duty of GPs to underwrite long-term sickness benefits, doctors are paradoxically better positioned to act as advocates for those who genuinely deserve compassionate support. And it also removes the subversive tendency of those feckless people who blackmail their GPs and play one doctor off against another.
Correcting the whole deranged system of sickness and unemployment benefits require more than changes to the award mechanisms. We need to inculcate standards of behaviour from the earliest age that nurture responsibility toward self and society. When we as a society are ready to respect each other, understand and uphold personal and collective responsibility, and encourage and applaud all those people who undertake decent work regardless of its perceived value to society, then only can we begin to achieve the economic benefits of a fair and well-rounded society.