Reporting and prediction of work-related sickness absence by general practitioners

L. Hussey, K. Thorley, R. Agius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Information on sickness absence (SA) duration in general practice is difficult to record. The duration of absence certified by general practitioners (GPs) can be viewed as a prognosis for return to work. The Health and Occupation Research network in General Practice (THOR-GP) collects SA information from GPs associated with cases of work-related ill-health. A sample of these cases is followed up 1 year retrospectively to gather information on the duration of absence. Aims: To examine the extent of the underestimation of SA in routinely reported data and to investigate how well GPs predict patients' return to work.Methods: THOR-GPs submit case and SA information using a web-based form. GPs who submitted selected cases were asked about the total number of days of SA and whether the patient had returned to work. Results: THOR-GPs' routine SA data collection underestimated absence duration by 61%. According to the retrospective data, a much larger proportion of periods of absence due to work-related mental ill-health developed into long-term SA (60%) than episodes attributed to musculoskeletal disorders (32%). In over half the reported cases, the return to work was longer than the GP initially predicted. Conclusions: THOR-GP prospectively reported SA data underestimated the total length of absence; however, these data can examine the episodic rates of absence within different groups. More accurate longitudinal data can be collected retrospectively. GPs' ability to predict the length of time a patient will be away from work is important to enable treatment and rehabilitation planning in order to decrease the likelihood of a patient falling into long-term SA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)662-668
Number of pages7
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number8
Early online date11 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • General practice
  • Mental ill-health
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Return to work
  • Sickness absence
  • Work-related ill-health

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing


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