Expenditure on sickness benefit is reported to have risen from €330 million in 2001 to €876 million last year.
The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, is currently examining proposals to remove the certification of sick leave from family GPs and give it to independent medical assessors with expertise in occupational medicine.
At their meeting on 5 July 2012, the Medical Council reminded GPs of their obligations under the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners when issuing sick certificates. The Council discussed the ongoing debate surrounding sick leave and its impact on the economy and the public finances.
The Medical Council’s ethical guide states that: "In issuing certificates, reports, prescriptions and other formal documents, you must be accurate and make sure the document is legible. You must also include your Medical Council registration number. Normally you should only sign a certificate or other such prescription, report or document for a patient following review of the patient’s condition”.
The Medical Council reminded doctors such certificates should only be issued once a doctor considers a patient to be genuinely unfit for work. The Council also restated that all complaints received relating to this issue will be thoroughly investigated and action will be taken, should a doctor be found to be in breach of the guide.
Ten complaints about certification have been received over the past four years. These include complaints by employers about the length of sick leave given to employees and complaints by employees about a doctor’s refusal to sign a sick cert.