COLCHESTER residents have said the Prime Minister’s plans to strip GPs of their power to sign people off work might lead to those “already on the edge” “making drastic choices".

Rishi Sunak has pledged to make it harder for some patients to obtain sick notes should the Conservatives win the upcoming General Election.

Mr Sunak said benefits have become a “lifestyle choice” with a record high of 2.8million people being out of work as of February 2024.

GPs used to be the only health care professionals who could sign sick notes until 2022 when this was widened to nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists.

A Government app might also soon replace the GP system with people with common inflections such as the flu being given automatic sick notes.

One retired Essex GP, however, believes offering patients “a rookie with algorithm” may lead to more harm than good.

The Prime Minister's comments have now come under fire from residents in Essex.

Allan Bullock said, as “someone currently signed off with mental health issues”, there should instead be increased funding for NHS talking therapies to end the three-month waiting list.

Mr Bullock added: “Simply refusing sick notes and not improving the current system is going to lead to people who are already on the edge making drastic choices."

Saffron Walden Reporter: GP - The now retired Dr John Cormack GP - The now retired Dr John Cormack (Image: Submitted)

Retired GP Doctor John Cormack – who worked in Maldon for 40 years - said there are “potential good and bad aspects” to the plan with some “overworked” GPs welcoming the load.

Dr Cormack said: “My view is tainted by the fact, during my last years in general practice, I was single-handed, which meant I knew my patients well and they knew me – so each time we met we picked up from where we left off last time.”

This, according to Dr Cormack, meant that if someone arrived in “floods of tears” due to “stress at work” he would know a way of solving the problem rather than “papering over the cracks with pills and potions”.

Another issue Dr Cormack wanted to raise was that after four weeks off work people are considered in a “danger zone” with the chance of returning to work diminishing rapidly.

He added: “After two years, statistics indicate you’re more likely to die, then successfully return to work - and unemployment often results in severe consequences for the patient and their nearest and dearest.”

Dr Cormack was also unsure in “difficult and delicate cases” if there were enough people with “suitable occupational health qualifications” to go around.

He added: “If all patients are offered is a rookie with an algorithm, this could well do more harm than good."

Saffron Walden Reporter: Pledge - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to stop people having benefits after 12 months if they do not accept job offersPledge - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to stop people having benefits after 12 months if they do not accept job offers (Image: Parliament)

Jackie Hardie, meanwhile, the Prime Minister “needs a reality check”.

She added: “Hopefully he will get one soon when his voted out!”.

Karen Massetti said the government’s approach to mental health was “confusing and contradictory” and said: “It's ok to not be ok... except when we tell you you're impacting on our budget.”

Laura Stobbs said the policy showed Mr Sunak had "no empathy” and that it was “grasping at straws to play the blame game”.

However, not everyone agreed.

Kristy Stephenson said the “working taxpayer gets penalised” to help fund the “lazy and cannot be bothered ones”.

Marc Lee agreed saying “anxiety and depression is now an excuse not to work” and added: “Bin the benefits and watch everyone get better.”

While Neil Turner said the problem “isn’t those genuinely sick but those swinging the lead” and added that “we all know someone”.

Wayne Seaden argued if the Government did not spend “millions per day housing illegal immigrants” there “wouldn’t be a strain on the welfare system". 

Grant Page asked how many “years of training” the potential specialists would have compared to doctors.

Tracey Luff-Johnson added: ”This is not a policy to help put the country right.

“No, it’s a policy of indifference which makes cruelty and suffering legal.”