Patients' attitudes to sickness certification in general practice

Occup Med (Lond). 2015 Aug;65(6):485-8. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqv069. Epub 2015 Jun 14.


Background: In 2010, the sick note was replaced with the fit note, designed to enable return to work. Despite considerable research relating to general practitioners' (GPs') attitudes and practice towards the fit note, little is known regarding the patients' perspective.

Aims: We sought to identify patients' attitudes to and feelings about the process of sickness certification.

Methods: Patients who received fit notes were invited to participate in tape-recorded telephone interviews, which were conducted with a semi-structured approach. Participants described their reason for sickness absence and whether it had been related to work. They were then asked to provide a narrative regarding their experience of the fitness for work process and their feelings about their GP and employer's reaction to sickness absence.

Results: Nine patients were interviewed. Four main themes emerged from analysis of the interviews: 'significant stigma', 'a GP who knows me', 'value of work' and 'emotional barriers'. Patients expressed preference for being seen by a familiar GP with a greater perceived understanding of the patient's attitude to sickness and work.

Conclusions: The four emergent themes of stigma, the value of work, a doctor who knows you and emotion suggest that further research should focus on the problems of stigma associated with sickness certification and patients' emotional response to asking for certification.

Keywords: Occupational health; qualitative study; sickness absence; work..

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • General Practice* / statistics & numerical data
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sick Leave / economics
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Work Capacity Evaluation*