A Suffolk GP has reported a 'significant rise' in the number of people off work due to mental health problems amid calls from the prime minister to end Britain's 'sick note culture'.

The Government has announced an overhaul amid concerns that the 'fit note' system was condemning people to a life on benefits.

In particular, Mr Sunak said overworked GPs were issuing repeat fit notes, which give opinions on patients' fitness for work, without receiving any advice about their situation that could enable the doctors to arrange appropriate support and treatment to keep them in work.

READ MORE: Revealed – The number of people signed off sick in Suffolk and north Essex each day

NHS data has revealed that in the area covered by the NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB), which buys services for the NHS, surgeries issued 11,079 fit notes in December, while in November, the number was 13,592.

In previous months, there were 13,890 fit notes in October and 12,449 in September.

The data covering the period from April 2021 to December 2023 revealed that the high point for fit notes was in November 2021 - as the country was coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic - when 15,710 were issued by GPs.

READ MORE: Saxmundham news

Dr John Havard, of Saxmundham Health, said GPs probably spent at least "half an hour each day" issuing repeat fit notes.

His surgery 'often, but not always' contacted a patient to find out how they were recovering and if there was anything that could be done to enable a return to work.

He said: "There certainly has been a significant rise in patients being off work due to mental health problems which seems to have been exacerbated since COVID.

"When patients are anxious or depressed there are a number of ways we can help but being off work is not necessarily a wise plan.

"Interaction and support from work colleagues can be helpful which means that signing some people off work may not be in their best interests."

READ MORE: Suffolk news

To try and tackle the problem, the Government is proposing shifting the responsibility for issuing the fit notes away from GPs to specialist health and work professionals with the time and expertise to make an objective assessment of an individual's fitness for work.

Dr Havard added: "If the Government has a plan for the issue of repeat certificates, then I would welcome the idea but have no knowledge of how it would work.

"As a general rule, I feel patients with anxiety and depression need the support of home, family, friends and also work.

"We should never underestimate the strength of the wider community to provide support."