x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Doctors scribble illegal sick notes

Doctors in Dubai have had their licences revoked after being caught selling thousands of sick notes to employees.

In this file photo, officials at the Dubai Health Authority oversee the registration process for doctors on Jan 16 2009.
In this file photo, officials at the Dubai Health Authority oversee the registration process for doctors on Jan 16 2009.

DUBAI // Doctors have been caught issuing thousands of illegal and fake sick notes to government employees. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) revoked the licences of three doctors, one of whom issued 2,500 notes in one year, after investigating claims of the illegal practice. It has also temporarily closed a private clinic. Patients are usually charged Dh100 for each note. Most clinics do not charge workers from the private sector. Abdulla al Falasi, director of medical licensing at the Department of Health and Medical Services, said of the doctor who issued about 2,500 notes: "This is a huge number. We began investigating and then approached the doctor to ask for the files of the patients. We found he did not have them. He was not issuing the sick notes for genuine reasons. This is fraud." A general medical committee and an online sick-note application process allow the DHA to monitor sick leave taken by government employees and look for doctors who issue unusually large numbers of notes. A circular issued by the health department in January reminded all public and private sector facilities that they must use the electronic sick-note system rather than write notes manually. That means doctors must fill in and register the sick leave application on the department's website, where the application will be approved or rejected. The employer can check the registration number of the note online to verify that it was approved by the authority and the reasons for the sick leave are genuine. The system also allows the authority to monitor the numbers of sick notes being issued by individual doctors or clinics and also monitor the amount of sick leave being taken. "We watch it very, very closely. It helps employers know if their staff are cheating. We want everyone to know that is they issue the notes fraudulently or take sick leave when they should not, we will find out." Government employees are entitled to five days of sick leave with a doctor's note before it is reported to the general medical committee at the health department, which scrutinises longer sick leave to spot suspect notes. If an alarm is raised with the DHA, the committee will investigate the claims and report its findings and recommendations to another committee, which decides what action should be taken against the doctor. Mr al Falasi said some employees were caught taking one or two sick days every few weeks. "This will be noticed," he said. "Employers do not want this to happen. If they are being given fake notes, we will find out." The committee was created last year after the DHA found government employees were using fake sick notes to take advantage of their 90-day allowance of sick leave. According to labour laws, employees who pass their probation and have worked for more than three months are entitled to up to 90 days sick leave each year. They receive full pay for the first 15 days, half pay for the next 30 days, and no pay for the remaining time. In October, the DHA revoked the licenses of two doctors who each signed more than 1,000 sick notes for civil servants who were not ill. The Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department alerted the DHA of two clinics issuing fake notes after they spotted patterns in their employees' sick leave. munderwood@thenational.ae