Nine million bogus sick-notes requested each year

Article date: 28 April 2004

Doctors get 22 million requests for sick-notes every year– and they estimate that nine million of these are suspect,according to a new report.

Norwich Union Healthcare’s latest ‘Health of theNation Index’ found that doctors think almost a quarter ofthe 577 requests for sick-notes they each get yearly arequestionable, at best, and nearly a fifth of them are invalid.

And nearly three million workers across the country admitthey’d consider asking their GP for a bogus sick-note - withtwice as many men than women saying they’d cheat thesystem.

Over a fifth of the GP panel interviewed as part of NorwichUnion Healthcare’s ‘Health of the Nation Index’say that up to 20 per cent of their patients are unable to work dueto health reasons.

But many GPs think that the numbers of people on sick-leavecould be reduced if it wasn’t for delays in treatment, and iforganisations arranged to have their employee back to work in adifferent capacity.

Dr Ann Robinson, one of the GPs who took part in the NorwichUnion Healthcare research says: "GPs want to treat genuinely illpatients and don't want to act as policemen, identifying those whoare claiming bogus sick notes.

Employers need to be more flexible with their workforce andhospital services need to provide fast track diagnostic andtreatment centres so people can get back to work as quickly aspossible. It's well known that the longer you're off work, theharder it is to get back."

And four in 10 of the GP panel, interviewed by independentmedical research specialists Dr Foster for Norwich UnionHealthcare, think more than a third of their patients who areunable to work, could actually work a few hours a day, or in aslightly different role, but that employers just aren’tencouraging them to return to work.

The most frequent causes for sick-note requests are:

1. Back pain
2. Depression
3. Work-place stress
4. Other stress related problems
5. Flu

The findings are part of Norwich Union Healthcare’s third‘Health of the Nation Index’, now entering its secondyear, which looks at GPs’ views of the health service. Theindex also reveals:

  • Patients in Scotland outdo the rest of the country by 2:1– Scottish GPs receive 1,013 requests for sick-notes a yearon average
  • Doctors in East Anglia receive the least requests in the UK,at 286 per year
  • Over-eating is seen as the most damaging dietary habitaffecting patients’ health
  • The GP panel thinks better public education about the impactof poor diet on health would be most effective in reducing thisimpact
  • Nearly half (48%) of GPs say at least a third of their time isspent on social, rather than medical issues – 70% of thosequestioned don’t think the profession is adequately equippedto deal with these.

Research amongst workers also revealed the top five reasonsthey’d give to get a sick note:

1. Embarrassment ie. personal crisis they couldn’t telltheir employer about
2. Workplace is too stressful
3. Holiday request refused or didn’t want to use theirholiday entitlement
4. Fatigue
5. Gave me a legitimate excuse to skive off work

Dr Doug Wright, clinical development manager at Norwich UnionHealthcare, adds: "One of the main themes of the report is how muchtime doctors devote to matters other than medical ones in theirsurgery, and that they’re not feeling adequately equipped todeal with these issues.

"Their view is that if patients were to educate themselves moreabout their condition, as well as the other forms of supportavailable, this could not only reduce the numbers attending theirsurgery, but will actually benefit patients’ health,long-term. And of course, the added benefit of this is that GPswill be free to spend more time with patients who genuinely needtheir medical attention."

Roger Taylor, research director at Dr Foster said: "More work isneeded to understand how social support could help people copebetter with the stresses of life, improve their health andlifestyle and reduce unnecessary burdens on the healthservice".

Full details of the Health of the Nation Index report can beaccessed at


Media contacts:
Jo Misson or CharlotteRuddlesdin, QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424
Lorna Wiltshire, Norwich Union Press Office on 01904 723236 or07788 471849

Notes to editors:

  • Calculations on the number of ‘bogus’ sick noterequests is based on a total of 38,000 GPs in the UK who receivean average of 577 requests for sick notes every year. Of these, 41per cent are considered to be questionable or invalid.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Dr Foster to conductresearch amongst 250 plus practicing General Practitioners fromacross the UK in January 2004.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned TNS to carry outresearch amongst 1,000 adults in the UK during April 2004.

About Norwich Union Healthcare

  • Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of income protectionand private medical insurance products that cover over 750,000lives. It is one of the largest providers of income protection andprivate medical insurance in the UK.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare is a member of the General InsuranceStandards Council, the Association of British Insurers and theFinancial Ombudsman Service.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre
  • An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast.Call the press office on 08703 66 68 68
  • For all life, pensions and equity release media enquiries call08703 66 68 73
  • For all other media enquiries call 08703 66 68 68
  • Dr Foster is the leading independent authority onhealthcare quality in the UK. It publishes information which isaccessible to the general public and provides information analysisto the professional healthcare community.
  • An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers toenforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganisation.
  • Further information is available at

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