MORE than 60,000 sick notes were handed out to Barnsley residents in the last year, new figures have revealed.

Since 2012, GPs have been able to give patients electronic ‘fit notes’, which say whether they’re too sick to return to work or offer other recommendations – such as a phased return to work.

New statistics from NHS Digital show a total of 63,907 of these notes were given to Barnsley residents to June.

The figure is equivalent to 39,835 notes for every 100,000 registered patients in the former Barnsley CCG area.

Across the country, the number of notes rose to 10.4 million – up 8.6 per cent from 9.5 million in 2019.

There has also been a significant national increase in fit notes given for long durations – 132,000 fit notes were issued for leave of 20 weeks or longer in the year to June, up 42 per cent from 93,000 three years prior.

It has been suggested that ‘long Covid’ – a range of coronavirus-related symptoms which remain after the initial period of infection has passed – could be contributing to the increase in workers being signed off for longer periods, alongside lengthy waiting lists for NHS treatment since the start of the pandemic.

Recent NHS England figures show more than 18,000 patients were waiting for non-urgent operations or treatment at Barnsley Hospital at the end of July.

Of those, 66 has been waiting more than a year.

The median waiting time from referral at an NHS Trust to treatment at Barnsley Hospital was nine weeks at the end of August – the same as in July.

In the year to June, 42 per cent of all the notes were for a leave of a month or longer – up from 34 per cent in 2018-19.

The Health Foundation, a charity which researches healthcare across the country, said the rise in sickness duration was ‘incredibly worrying’ and could have ‘disastrous’ consequences if residents are being forced to stop working altogether.

Dave Finch, assistant director of the charity, said that long-term sickness is tough on those trying to make ends meet – especially during the current cost-of-living crisis.

He said: “It will be bad news for employers, especially in areas with severe skills shortages.

“It will add costs for the state too, when pressures are going up and money available is going down.”

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows the number of people off work due to long-term sickness in the UK is at all-time high, with 2.49 million people now ‘economically inactive’ due to ill health.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said they have published updated guidance to employers on how to support employees that are managing a health condition.

They added: “For anyone with a disability or long-term health condition, including long-Covid, there is a strong financial safety net, including Statutory Sick Pay, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.”