GPs have given more than 150,000 sick notes to patients in Bedfordshire

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Women were disproportionately likely to be the recipients of fit notes

More than 150,000 sick notes were given to patients by GPs in Bedfordshire last year, new figures show.

For the last decade, GPs have been able to provide patients with electronic fit notes, which tell employers if a patient is too ill to work, or give other recommendations, such as reducing their working hours.

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New figures from NHS England show 157,393 fit notes were provided by GPs in the former NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG area in 2022, or an average of 13,116 a month.

This means there were 23,640 fit notes given out for every 100,000 patients aged 18 to 65 in the area – a lower rate than England as a whole, which had 27,789 per 100,000 patients.

These figures are for the number of individual fit notes, rather than patients – a single patient may have been given multiple notes over the course of the year.

Across England 10.7 million fit notes were issued last year – up from 10.5 million the year before, and 10.2 million in 2019, the year before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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However, there was a 4% decrease in the number of fit notes issued in the last quarter of 2022 compared to the same quarter in 2021.

The NHS figures do not cover all fit notes, as some patients may opt out from sharing data.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported earlier this year that the Government is looking into ways of reforming the fit note system to limit the impact of long-term sickness on the economy.

John Appleby, director of research at health charity Nuffield Trust, said: “Aside from the impact on the labour market, tackling recent rises in long-term sickness will represent a challenge to health services as they grapple with the demands of post-pandemic recovery.”

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Women were disproportionately likely to be the recipients of fit notes – receiving 57.9% of all fit notes last year.

Mr Appleby continued: “There were some notable differences between men and women in the reasons they gave for not being in work between late 2020 and late 2022, with long-term sickness rising more for women than for men.

"While reductions in labour market participation are almost certainly in part associated with the impact and aftermath of the pandemic, for women the rise in long-term sickness as a reason for inactivity pre-dated Covid, starting at the beginning of 2019," he added.

In England, the number of fit notes issued for a period of five weeks or more rose from 4.2m in 2021 to 4.5m last year.

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A large majority of fit notes do not give a specific diagnosis, but more than a million fit notes were issued for mental and behavioural disorders in 2022, including 1,379 in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes.

Recent research by the Learning and Work Institute found people in lower paid occupations are more likely to leave the labour market due to ill health.

It recommended the Government and employers provide greater support to people with long-term health conditions to help them re-join the workforce.