U.K. Family Doctors May Lose Power to Decide on Sickness Claims

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- A U.K. government report into long-term sickness will urge ministers to set up a panel to assess whether people are too ill to work, so that employers don’t have to rely on family doctors, a person familiar with the document said.

The Independent Review Into Sickness Absence, to be published next week, will say that family doctors, known as General Practitioners, aren’t well-placed to judge what work sick people could do, and have no incentive not to sign sick notes sought by their patients. The report will suggest a government-funded service to which both employers and doctors could turn, according to a near-final draft, said the person, who declined to be identified because it hasn’t been published

The report was commissioned in February from Carol Black, the government’s director for health and work, and David Frost, former director of the British Chambers of Commerce. It aims to cut the cost of sickness to both government and employers.

The Confederation of British Industry estimated in May that sickness cost employers 17 billion pounds ($27 billion) in 2010. The Department for Work and Pensions estimates the cost to government of working-age ill health at 60 billion pounds a year in welfare, lost taxes and treatment.

The review may also recommend a job-brokering service to help those on long-term sick leave find appropriate jobs; faster checks for people claiming sickness benefits; changing fitness checks so that people are assessed as to whether they could do any job, rather than simply their current one; and tax breaks for employers who pay for “interventions” to help staff earning less than around 40,000 pounds a year to get back to work.

A Department for Work and Pensions statement said the report will be published “shortly.”

While the report isn’t binding on government, Conservative minister David Freud and Liberal Democrat Ed Davey will give a presentation on it to companies and others with an interest on Nov. 21, suggesting they welcome its conclusions. They will then consider their options and public reaction before announcing their final response.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.