MENTAL health conditions account for close to a third of all fit notes issued in England, according to new data released by the NHS.
In all, 31 per cent of fit notes written in England between December 2014 and March 2017 gave mental health as a reason, making it the most common condition for issuing the notes.
A fifth of those fit notes were issued for a period of absence of more than 12 weeks.
Stress and anxiety was one of the biggest causes of fit notes issued for mental health reasons. The number of fit notes known to have been written for stress and anxiety-related conditions from included practices increased by around 14 per cent from 503,000 in 2015/16 to 573,000 in 2016/17.
Musculoskeletal conditions were the second most common reason given for issuing fit notes.
Women accounted for more than half of the total number of fit notes issued in the reporting period, from a low of 53.8 per cent in August 2015 to a high of 57.8 per cent in January 2017, according to the experimental report.
NHS Digital said that this was the first time that information had been collected from GPs and analysed.
These practices are responsible for around two-thirds of working age patients registered with a GP in England.
The fit note – or Medical Statement of Fitness to Work – was introduced in 2010 in response to the Black report on ill health among working age people, so GPs could give advice how a patient might return to work depending on workplace adjustments and support, rather than simply stating they were too sick to work.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England told the English press: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.”