GPs urged to refer patients to ‘life coaches’ to reduce chronic sickness

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GPs will be encouraged to refer patients to life coaches rather than sign them off sick under government plans to get more people back into work, it has been reported.

Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, is developing a “universal support” scheme under which life coaches could help 50,000 people who are signed off with long-term mental health, debt or other problems resume work, according to the Times.

It comes after the Daily Telegraph reported in February that plans being considered for this year’s budget included doctors being told to sign fewer people off work with sick notes, and instead help them to continue working.

A record 2.5million people are currently signed off with long-term sickness, an increase of over 400,000 since the start of the Covid pandemic, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Ministers have said the increased figure is putting pressure on public finances.

“The general view is that parity of esteem between mental and physical health, as well as what’s happened with Covid, has meant that more people are being signed off sick,” a government source told the Times.

“It’s led to a huge increase in the size of the welfare state. Nobody is talking about cutting benefits, that would be politically disastrous, but we are looking closely at how we can incentivise people to go back to work.”

When he was chancellor, Rishi Sunak pushed the DWP to go further in encouraging people to move off benefits and into work. He tasked Mr Stride with the drive before Christmas.

Sick notes, renamed “fit notes” by the Government, are official written statements from a registered healthcare professional giving their medical opinion on a person’s fitness for work.

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