Letters: Rishi Sunak is right to challenge the British approach to sickness and work

In a 10-minute GP consultation it is almost impossible to assess thoroughly a person's fitness for work
In a 10-minute GP consultation it is almost impossible to assess thoroughly a person's fitness for work - Anthony Devlin/PA
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SIR – As a GP I very much welcome Rishi Sunak’s proposals to remove from GPs the task of signing sick notes (report, April 19).

In a 10-minute consultation it is almost impossible to assess thoroughly a person’s fitness for work, especially if the problem is related to mental health or stress. The GP – whom the patient feels should be on their side – is placed in a very difficult position. The result is that many doctors avoid a long and difficult argument with the patient by caving in and signing, even when they don’t feel the note is justified. Many people are now off work on the basis of a brief phone consultation.

I have had patients tell me that their back pain is so bad they can barely move or walk – only to see them later in the week lifting heavy bags of shopping at the supermarket with apparently no difficulty at all. I have also had patients come from the benefits office, where they have been told to get their doctor to sign them off sick as they will get more money than on unemployment benefit and won’t then have to look for work.

Occupational health doctors could perform such assessments, but they will need to be suitably rigorous; otherwise the problem will simply be transferred and those doctors will end up signing too many unwarranted sick notes.

In any case, however, I do hope the problem will actually be tackled. Mr Sunak is big on talk but has a poor track record on action.

Dr Fiona Underhill
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – In the 1960s I was an occupational health nurse in an industrial rehabilitation and government training centre.
A group of professional people assessed the long-term sick and injured, evaluating their physical and mental states. Training was provided and support in obtaining employment given. The unit was run by the then Department of Employment.

I would suggest the Government considers setting up something similar to help solve the present problem.

Margaret Vince
Machynlleth, Montgomeryshire

SIR – The Government’s pledge to “end Britain’s sick note culture” is a punch in the gut for the millions of disabled people in Britain like me.

We’re not “shirkers” or “scroungers”. While employment isn’t appropriate for everyone, many disabled people do want to work, but the barriers we face can sometimes feel insurmountable.

Research from our charity shows that half of job-seekers with complex disabilities don’t feel they have the right support and equipment they need to look for a job. There are no Jobcentres in the country offering specialist assistive technology, such as screen readers; how are people who rely on these vital pieces of equipment meant to thrive in paid employment if they can’t even look for jobs online?

But one of the biggest barriers to finding work is negative attitudes towards disabled people, and the Government’s current rhetoric, compounded by the Prime Minister’s latest speech, is only pedalling this dangerous, damaging narrative further. The Government should be tackling this head on, instead of demonising sick and disabled people.

Steven Morris
Campaigns Officer, Sense
London N1

Israel’s security

SIR – Amid the response to Israel’s strike on Iran (telegraph.co.uk, April 19), it is worth stating: the way this country responds to coming under attack is a matter for its own government, not virtue-signalling politicians in Britain and America.

Graham Low
Malpas, Cheshire

SIR – I agree with Lord Frost (Comment, April 19) about the emergence of an anti-Western, Islamo-Leftist coalition.
What I cannot understand is how the two ideologies can possibly coexist. The Islamist worldview found in Iran, for instance, is racialist, misogynistic, colonialist, anti-diversity, anti-LGBT, pro-nuclear and anti-net zero (oil sales make a large part of its economy).

This list is pretty much the polar opposite of everything the woke Left believes in. About the only thing both groups support is the suppression of free speech.

Professor R G Faulkner
Loughborough, Leicestershire

Rayner and the police

SIR – I hold no brief for the Labour deputy leader (Leading Article, April 19). Angela Rayner’s public persona is of a typical Old Labour firebrand, vitriolic towards her political opponents (or, as she prefers to call them, “scum”) and oblivious of her own apparent hypocrisy.

However, while no politician can be allowed to be above the law, I am at a loss as to how the police can justify assigning a dozen officers to investigate allegations against her, when so many serious crimes go uninvestigated every day.

John Waine 
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

SNP’s climate U-turn

SIR – In 2021, the SNP introduced “the most ambitious legal framework for emissions reduction in the world”. We regularly heard about these targets, which, the party said, were going to be achieved ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Now, however, we learn that the Scottish government is planning to abandon its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 (“Yousaf ‘will ditch Sturgeon’s pledge to cut Scotland’s greenhouse gases’ ”, report, April 18). The problem with targets is that, in order to meet them, you have to actually take decisions, enact them and monitor them, rather than simply making pie-in-the-sky pronouncements.

SNP-Green ministers were warned in 2022 that they were falling behind the rest of Britain on emissions. They were bound under the Climate Change Act to publish a plan, but failed to do so. If only we had a Scottish government that tried to make our lives better rather than announcing unachievable ambitions.

Jane Lax
Craigellachie, Banffshire

SIR – Màiri McAllan, the SNP’s net zero secretary, is blaming Westminster for having to abandon the SNP’s climate targets (report, telegraph.co.uk, April 19). This comes as no surprise, as that is the party’s usual mantra.

What would be a surprise is if the SNP could take responsibility for any of its complete mess-ups in health, education, policing and transport.

Dr J R Drummond
Cellardyke, Fife

SIR – As one of the individuals protesting outside Parliament on Thursday against large-scale solar farms, I take issue with the headline of your report (“Energy minister backs anti-solar protests”, April 19).

The rally organised by the UK Solar Alliance was emphatically not anti-solar. It was a protest against massive solar plants, spread across thousands of acres of British arable land, disfiguring the countryside and jeopardising our food security for generations to come.

As our placards said, we are all in favour of harnessing solar energy to counter the climate crisis. But we are asking that this energy is generated on residential and commercial rooftops, and on brownfield sites, rather than on greenfield land more suited to agricultural and recreational use.

Phil Moore
Steering committee, Stop Lime Down
Sherston, Wiltshire

The best way to nurture a love of the theatre

An actor prepares: a pupil at a drama outreach performance in Truro, Cornwall
An actor prepares: a pupil at a drama outreach performance in Truro, Cornwall - Getty Images

SIR – Congratulations to the playwright James Graham for winning the best new play award for Dear England at the Laurence Olivier Awards (report, April 15). Congratulations, also, to the drama teachers at his Nottingham comprehensive school for encouraging working-class children such as him to study drama in the first place.

It will take more than a play about football to encourage a more diverse theatregoing demographic, however. After all, Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Beautiful Game did not achieve this, while also receiving mixed reviews from the critics.

The key to attracting new audiences is education. We should enable every school to teach drama and take its pupils to the theatre.

Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

SIR – I have some sympathy with Sarah Leggat’s view (Letters, April 17) that a non-disabled actor cannot know what being disabled feels like. However, I fear that such an attitude will reduce the chance for those who are not disabled to learn about disability.

Moreover, if we follow the argument to its full conclusion, couldn’t it be claimed that nobody apart from Richard III could ever portray Richard III adequately because they cannot know what being Richard III feels like?

William Fay
Sherfield on Loddon, Hampshire

SIR – As far as I know, the Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne has no disability, yet his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything was absolutely superb. The whole art of acting is to portray a different person, disabled or otherwise.

Tim Pope
Weybridge, Surrey

Addicted to bans

SIR – Dr S K Goolamali (Letters, April 19), who sets out the dangers of smoking as an argument for the Government’s ban, has a point. 
However, now that there is also clear evidence linking obesity to suffering and early death, will Rishi Sunak please also phase out sugar, fast-food retailing and daytime television?

Julian Tope
Portishead, Somerset

Life with Parkinson’s

SIR – The headline of your report on the “Parky Charter” (“Parkinson’s makes me wish I was never born, says Paxman”, April 13) risks causing substantial discouragement to many people, especially those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and are in the early stages of adjusting, as well as their families and friends.

Mr Paxman’s comments are not typical of many sufferers. I was diagnosed 17 years ago, shortly before I retired from a long career as a GP. While I was initially very distressed, I subsequently discovered that Parkinson’s gave me a positive chance to re-evaluate my life in every way. Friends, family, the outdoors, overseas travel, artistic beauty and creativity, colour and light are now among the precious components of my daily life.

The diagnosis is always life-changing, but my experience – and I am sure this is true of many fellow “Parky” patients – has been one of personal growth and greater wisdom. Your making people aware of the charter is welcome, but there needs to be a balanced view about how for many people life with Parkinson’s can be a case of fully living for the moment and seizing every opportunity.

Dr Bernadette Hodgson
London SW1

Elgar the great

SIR – It is difficult to imagine the music of Edward Elgar ever being “trendy” (report, April 18). However, the warmth and humanity of so much of his work, from Salut d’Amour to his Cello Concerto, mean that it holds a special place in the hearts of music lovers. 

It is arguable – with apologies to Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and others – that Elgar is the nearest thing we have to a great composer. His stirring choral music is also well worth getting to know.

Ian France
Penrith, Cumbria

Corvid connoisseurs

SIR – In answer to Philip Urlwin-Smith’s question (Letters, April 18): yes, it is normal for members of the crow family to act like squirrels.

When I was a child my family raised a pair of ravens, which developed a passion for cheese. This would be doled out in small squares as a reward for good behaviour, or just to shut them up. It would never be eaten at the time of giving, but stored for later. Regrettably, they liked to hide it in holes they had pecked into my late father’s prized croquet lawn.

Mathew Martin
Pershore, Worcestershire

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