More and more Britons suffering from severe illness have refused sick notes in recent times because they feel they cannot afford to take time off work, the head of the Royal College of GPs told the Guardian.
In the UK, sick notes are vital to many people suffering from long term health conditions or recovering from injuries or illness. Traditionally issued by general practitioners or GPs, they let the employer know how long that person might need off work and any important information about their absence.
“I’ve been really surprised in the last year that when I’ve offered a sick note they’ve said ‘Oh no, no, I can’t take time off. I need the money from work’,” said Dr Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs.
In recent months, many patients have turned up with chronic ailments such as asthma and diabetes, lifestyle-related disorders like fatigue and mouth ulcers, as well as mental health problems. However, they are unwilling to sign off work due to illness, saying they must keep working to provide for their families, related Hawthorne.
According to Hawthorne, the cost of living crisis in the UK is in many ways to blame for peoples’ deteriorating health. With food and fuel becoming dearer, many cannot afford to heat their homes or eat anything other than a poor, nutrition-deficient diet. Their mental well-being is also reeling under financial stress, she said.
“The cost of living crisis has been there for a long time. But it’s suddenly got a lot worse in the last couple of months. I’ve now got patients who are worried about fuel costs this winter, who’ve not turned on their heating yet and are keeping their windows shut,” she said.
Those refusing sick notes are mainly young to middle-aged adults, including people who work in call centres, but it is also seen in people with young families and older people, the Guardian quoted Hawthorne as saying.
Hawthorne went on to describe the “moral distress” for physicians who want to be able to help their patients. She also warned that illness linked to rising pressures on household budgets would also put even greater strain on already overstretched family doctor services.
The onset of winter will make things even worse for patients’ health and welfare, Hawthorne fears. “People are very, very anxious about what’s to come and whether they’re going to have to choose between heating and eating.”
The cost of living has been increasing across the UK since early 2021. With inflation at a 41-year high, the prices of food, gas, electricity, fuel, rent and mortgages have all risen sharply. According to the Office of National Statistics, gas prices have increased by 98.5 per cent in a year.