Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

Sicknotes too easy to get from leading online pharmacy, doctors say

Sicknotes are too easy to get from Britain’s biggest online pharmacy, doctors say – people can get signed off work for £39 by uploading a 30-second video saying they don’t feel well

  • Pharmacy2U’s service signs customers off with GMC registered doctor note 
  • Can receive a sick letter on the same day if recording is submitted by 9pm  
  • Figures showed employees took an average of 7.8 days off sick over the past year

People in Britain can access sicknotes too easily thanks to a new service launched by the largest online pharmacy in the country, doctors say. 

Pharmacy2U’s latest system will allow customers to being signed off work by a GMC registered doctor if they pay a £39 fee and upload a short clip of themselves describing their symptoms. 

If they submit the recording before 9pm they can receive a sick letter on the same day.

Using the service, employees can fill out the questionnaire asking them for how long up to seven days they would like off work and whether the symptoms were continuing, before receiving the ‘work sickness certificate’ an hour later.

Dr Mark Porter claimed it would be ‘much easier to pull the wool over the eyes’ of a Pharmacy2U clinician than a worker’s own GP.

Pharmacy2U’s latest system will allow customers to being signed off work by a GMC registered doctor if they pay a £39 fee and upload a short clip of themselves

Using the service, people can fill out the questionnaire and record of a video outlining their symptoms

Porter told the Times: ‘I am all for anything that makes patients’ and NHS doctors’ lives easier, particularly given current record demand and difficulty accessing a GP/specialist.

READ MORE: BRITAIN’S SICK NOTE CULTURE IS RUINING US, WRITES ANDREW NEIL 

‘However, I am not sure how I would feel if I was an employer or an insurer given that the Pharmacy 2U system appears to be, at least to my eyes, only slightly more rigorous than a self-certification scheme.

‘Yes a clinician endorses the customer’s request — to be signed off work, declared unfit to travel etc … based on the facts presented and uploaded evidence, but there appears to be no reliable way of independently validating either.

‘The service is too dependent on taking every customer’s story at face value. And while the vast majority of people are honest, a small minority are not.

‘Call me a cynic, but if I was one of the latter I would find it much easier to pull the wool over the eyes of a Pharmacy2U clinician than my own GP/specialist. As such, the scheme is likely to be a roaring success.’

Zoomdoc also offers the service for people seeking time off from university or college as well as proof of illness to claim on holiday insurance. 

A spokeswoman for ZoomDoc said it does not certify for more than seven days and that its service had saved almost 10,000 GP hours.

She added: ‘We uphold the highest standards and have a rejection rate of 10 per cent of all medical letters that lack correct evidence or sufficient verifiable proof.

‘Our doctors do not just provide medical letters, they provide additional health advice via digital channels and call any patients if there are any health or safety concerns.

‘This stringent approach safeguards the integrity of our service, prioritising accuracy and reliability.’

Last year the government changed the rules to alleviate pressure on GPs and now allow nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists to sign people off work. 

Employees took an average of 7.8 days off sick over the past year – the highest level since 2008 (Stock Image)

Under the law, employees can self-certify for seven days before needing a sick note, technically called a fit note, as in ‘fitness to work’.

Britons are taking more sick days than at any other point in the past decade, according to an analysis of 6.5 million workers published last month by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 

The figures showed employees took an average of 7.8 days off sick over the past year – the highest level since 2008. 

The problem is worse among public sector workers, who are typically off sick for 10.6 days a year compared with their private sector colleagues on 5.8 days – although both sectors have seen steep increases. 

Official data also recently showed the numbers of long-term sick had reached a record 2.6 million. 

Compared with Europe, British workers take a below-average amount of sick leave. 

A 2021 study by Mitrefinch, a payroll firm, found that just 2.4 days are taken off on average because of illness every year in Sweden and Switzerland, compared with 5.8 in the UK, eight in France and an enormous 18.3 in Germany. 

A government spokesman said: ‘We continue to explore what more can be done to ensure the fit note process is robust against exploitation, while enabling patients to access timely support to manage their health condition and return to work.’ 

Pharmacy2U have been approached for a comment. 

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