Doctors issued warning over sick certs

Sat, Jul 7, 2012, 01:00

DOCTORS HAVE been warned by their supervisory body not to issue sick certs to patients unless they are genuinely unfit for work.

The Medical Council has warned doctors that “normally” they should sign a sick cert only after reviewing a patient’s condition. GPs have also been enjoined to make the certificates they write legible.

The council took the unusual step yesterday of reminding doctors of the rules on ethics and professional conduct that apply to the issuing of sick certs.

It said it was responding to the “ongoing debate” about sick leave and its impact on the economy and the public finances. Absenteeism costs the economy about €1.5 billion a year, according to the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, with the average worker missing six days on top of holidays.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is examining proposals to remove the certification of sick leave from family GPs and give it to independent medical assessors with expertise in occupational medicine.

Last month, a Sunday Times journalist was able to obtain a sick cert from seven out of 10 GPs she visited, in spite of telling them she wasn’t ill and simply wanted a day off to attend a wedding.

The council’s rules state that doctors must be accurate when issuing certificates, reports and prescriptions and should make sure the document is legible.

It said all complaints on the issue would be thoroughly investigated and action taken if a doctor was found to be in breach of the rules.

Ten complaints about certification have been received over the past four years, it said. These include complaints by employers about the length of sick leave given to employees and complaints by employees about a doctor’s refusal to sign a sick cert.

Doctors are required to renew their registration with the council each year and as part of this process they sign a declaration that they have read the council’s guidance, which includes the rules applying to the issuing of certs.

“Implicit in this interaction is the understanding that they must be truthful in what they certify,” said council president Prof Kieran Murphy. “Where a complaint is made and a doctor is found to be in breach of the guidance, we will take it very seriously.”

Serious complaints could result in a fitness-to-practise hearing with possible suspension of a doctor’s registration.