I'm An NHS GP – Here's Why Rishi Sunak's Wrong About Mental Health

<span class="copyright">WPA Pool via Getty Images</span>
WPA Pool via Getty Images

In a speech about what he calls “sick note culture” last Friday, Rishi Sunak said that he would never “dismiss or downplay the illnesses people have,” but suggested that some of the millions of people deemed ineligible to work by the government may be part of a “growing trend” of “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life.”

In the welfare speech, which has been roundly slammed, the Prime Minister said “we are going to tighten up the Work Capability Assessment... such that hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions will now be expected to engage in the world of work – and be supported to do so.”

NHS GP Martin Brunet was among those appalled by the PM’s comments. In a TikTok video which has gained over 800k views at the time of writing, the GP said, ”[Rishi Sunak] said that there’s been a surge of people on welfare who say that they have a medical health condition.

“Prime Minister, when you use language like that, you strongly imply that you don’t believe them,” the doctor added. “And people with mental health conditions are fed up with not being believed.”

Dr. Brunet says that Rishi Sunak’s government has only been paying “lip service” to mental health needs

In his April 19th speech, Sunak commented on how Work Capability Assessments have deemed 65% of applicants unable to work in 2023 vs 20% in 2011.

But Dr. Brunet told HuffPost UK that Sunak’s suggestion that people only seem “three times sicker than they were a decade ago” due to “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life” is “frankly ridiculous.”

“The real interpretation is that the assessments in 2011 were so poorly done that a huge number were overturned in appeal,” the doctor told HuffPost UK.

“Does he really think that only one in five people signed off work are genuinely unwell? Even the 65% rate is probably too low.” 

“He says that it’s not reasonable that somebody with mild anxiety and depression should be out of work on welfare... Well I can tell you, there’s nothing mild about any health condition that means you’re not able to work, or even that you end up temporarily on welfare,” the NHS GP said in his video.

“Sunak’s claim that this is a moral mission is perverse” 

The doctor told HuffPost UK that “Sunak’s claim that this is a moral mission is perverse.” 

“In threatening people with mental health conditions in this way he has made so many people more anxious and more low as they feel their condition is not believed; it is not just those on benefits who have felt attacked by his words,” the GP shared with HuffPost UK. 

“He says he rejects the claim that he lacks compassion for people with mental health conditions, but we don’t have to accept this ― the hostility of his words speak for themselves.” 

Dr. Brunet also told HuffPost UK, ”[Sunak] says repeatedly that people should have support, but his speech made no mention of what that support should be or any suggestion that there would be any attempt to improve that support.

“If anything, by taking the issue of sick notes from GPs to external assessors, he is removing one line of support, the GP, since we will no longer be the ones having the discussion about work with the patient.” 

His video caption ends, “I have never known mental health services to be in a worse state than they are right now.” 

The doctor’s video and comments come as multiple charities and health professionals have spoken out against the PM’s speech.