Draft GMC guidance tells doctors to do more to encourage patients with long-term illnesses to stay in or return to work. Photograph: Ferenczy Europress/FEB

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Doctors told to do more to keep the long-term ill employed” was written by James Meikle, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 31st October 2011 15.10 Europe/London

Doctors are being told to do more to keep patients with long-term illnesses in work and adopt healthy lifestyles.

New draft guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) says doctors “must support patients in caring for themselves to empower them to improve and maintain their health”. The move is politically sensitive given the government’s drive to cut the number of people on incapacity benefits.

The guidance adds: “This may include encouraging patients, including those with long-term conditions, to stay in or return to employment or other purposeful activity. You may also advise patients on the effects of their life choices on their health and wellbeing and the possible outcomes of their treatments.”

Although it is common for doctors to check patients’ drinking and smoking habits, this is the first time the GMC has been so explicit in its guidance on good medical practice. The guidance is currently being updated, with the final version due next year.

Serious or persistent failure to follow the guidance could count against doctors facing fitness to practise investigations and endanger their registration. The word “must” is used for an overriding duty or principle doctors are compelled to obey, although the use of the word “may” with regard to encouraging patients back into employment or their life choices allows for flexibility in supporting patients.

No new claims for incapacity benefit have been accepted since January – people have to claim for employment and support allowance instead – but all those on the benefit are having their entitlement reviewed, a process not due for completion until 2014.

Although the guidance is not a statutory code and leaves room for doctors’ professional judgment, both the government and Labour are wary of “nanny state” approaches. The intervention of the GMC, which regulates all doctors including those in the NHS, comes at a sensitive time.

Guidance is also being toughened in other areas, including the protection of vulnerable patients in the wake of repeated concerns, including from the Care Quality Commission, that hospitals are not providing good care for older people. The new draft guidance says doctors must take a lead role in making sure a patient’s safety, comfort and dignity are always maintained.

Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the BMA’s GPs’ committee, said the draft guidance fitted in with what doctors already did. “Doctors would see work as being beneficial for patients in the vast majority of cases … Clearly in cases where work was impossible or making patients unwell, that is when doctors would use certification to enable them to be away from work. You want to get people active,” he said whether through unpaid voluntary work or employment.

“Doctors’ first and foremost priority is the patient in front of them and not the Benefits Agency or the Department of Work and Pensions.”

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Comments
  • Joe Kane on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    The GMC is recommending doctors to encourage the sick and disabled to “stay in” – but what does this mean?

    Even if you’re sick and disabled you should be encouraged/forced to work, and if you can’t work then you shouldn’t be allowed out in public, is what the GMC, seems to be saying.

    Given budgets are being slashed for carer services, it means that the sick and disabled will have to starve themselves to death for fear of being reported by nosey stasi police state neighbours for the crime of going out to their local shops to buy food.

    Why doesn’t the GMC recommend, while they’re about it, the building of specially secluded camps, the tattooing of numbers on the arms of the sick and disabled and for them all to be given a Black Triangle to pin to their chests?

    Arbiet macht frei
    Brought to you by the GMC, a division of Atos and Unum.

  • Margaret Burton on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Ah…not to be seen OR heard…!

  • Margaret Burton on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Hey Jo, was looking for your ‘virtual wheelchair’ post but can’t find it anywhere. Hope u r ok hunz? 🙂

  • Joe Kane on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Margaret, remember to click on the option at the top of BT’s wall to view posts by everyone if you want to see my virtual wheelchair post.

    I’m relatively ok thanks. I hope you are well.

  • Margaret Burton on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Ty hun. Wobbling along…:-)

  • Lesley Farrington on Facebook October 31, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Encourage employers to keep on long-term sick and disabled by taking away people’s employment rights and help for tribunals while cutting the type of help Access to Work can offer-including adapted chairs and voice recognition software…of course existing and new employers will fall over themselves to buy them. The Welfare Reform Bill with Universal Credit will do away with the necessity to work for 16 hours to claim what are now tax credits…all well, good and positive you may think…but because that means that some one could work one hour and claim they are introducing work conditionality regimes where you will be forced into work that pays £11 000 for a single person and £22 000 for couples. On minimum wage they would be forced into working 35 hours rather than 16. While this was raised by in the house of lords, they were fobbed off by Lord Freud who went on about reasonableness being applied but without measures on statute and this is not the right word but my brain has gone, trailing this. All really helpful…so you will be subject to sanctions when working. These measures are not designed to get people into work or keep them there, as that would not please employers, but to get people in work and out of work off benefits and if they starve…all well and good.

  • Joe Kane on Facebook November 1, 2011 at 12:44 am

    “We have ways of making you work!”

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