Citizens Advice Scotland have said the government should give GPs the extra resources they need to provide evidence to people who are going through the strict new assessment test for disability benefits.
BMA Scotland is today (04/05/13) saying that GPs have been ‘flooded’ with requests from patients who need written evidence of their medical history. This is because the government now requires ALL disabled benefit claimants to go through the new assessment system. As a result, GPs are struggling with these growing demands: some are charging their patients for this evidence, and others are refusing to provide it altogether.
CAS Policy Manager Keith Dryburgh says,
“The reason this situation is coming to a head is because the government is now requiring all sick and disabled benefit claimants to go through the new assessment tests1, and these tests has been shown to be deeply flawed, so many people are losing their benefits unfairly, or being judged ‘fit to work’ when they are nothing of the kind. Claimants understandably want to make sure their case is assessed accurately, and that their full medical history is taken into account, so of course they want to provide evidence from their GP.
“The problem is that GPs are finding this a huge strain on their resources, and many are charging their patients for this information. In some cases we’ve seen people being charged up to £100. Remember we are talking here about vulnerable people who are on very low incomes, so a charge of £10 or £20 is a huge commitment for them, and £100 is frankly impossible.
“We don’t blame the GPs for this situation. Indeed we share their frustrations. This whole assessment system is having a huge impact on CAB workload too, and we agree with BMA Scotland that much of it is in fact avoidable.2 The system, with all its flaws, was introduced by the government, not by the GPs. And local health surgeries are already under huge pressure for resources, so we understand that having to provide evidence for so many people is a big strain for them. They should be given the resources to help them do this.
“The bottom line is that people who are sick and disabled should get fair treatment, and should be supported by the welfare system. We’re sure GPs would want to do all they can to help their patients get this support, but ultimately it is the government’s responsibility to enable that. If the government wants people to prove how sick they are, then they should provide support for GPs to make this evidence available. The GPs should not be penalised for a flawed government policy, and nor should the sick and disabled patients.”
Commenting on this story already, the government has said that written evidence from GPs is not a formal requirement of the assessment system, and so people don’t need to provide it. Keith Dryburgh responds to this point:
“CAS has been showing for over three years now that this assessment system is deeply flawed and issues many judgements which are simply wrong. This is clear from the high number of successful appeals.2 One of the reasons for this high rate of unfair decisions is that the tests do not take the person’s full medical history into account.
“So it is true that GP evidence is not a formal requirement of the system, but surely it should be something that is taken into account. And if the system was less flawed, people might feel more confident they would be judged fairly and so wouldn’t feel the need to provide so much detailed evidence.3
“The government can’t blame people for wanting to get a fair judgement which reflects their actual medical condition. Nor can they blame GPs for finding it hard to cope with this huge demand.
“This situation is of the government’s own making, so it is their responsibiity to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that people get a fair deal. They can do this by improving the system as a whole, and making it more geared towards proper assessment of peoples’ individual cases. But in the meantime they should give the GPs whatever resources they need to enable them to provide the evidence the claimant requires.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
- Between April 2011 and 2014, over 170,000 existing Incapacity Benefit claimants in Scotland will undergo a re-assessment for the new Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). That’s a rate of nearly 1,000 per week.
- Like GPs, the CAB service too has been overwhelmed by cases of people who have been through these assessments and have been judged unfairly. Last year in Scotland we represented 2,157 such people at appeal tribunals (taking up 1,500 of our advisers’ working days, at salary costs of more than £130,000). Some 69% of these appeals were successful, which suggests that the system is very seriously flawed and the extra workload it brings to the CAB and to GPs – as well as the stress and financial crisis brought to the disabled claimant of course – is indeed avoidable.
- These 170,000 claimants are being assessed using the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). We believe that this has been clearl shown to be a blunt and inadequate method of assessing a claimant’s capacity for work and entitlement to benefits. With more than 1,000 long-term claimants being re-assessed each week in Scotland, we have serious concerns about the ability of the WCA to accurately assess the complex medical conditions of the most vulnerable people in society. For evidence see the many evidence reports we have published on this issue (www.cas.org.uk. This is a brief excerpt from one of our evidence reports – a briefing we sent recently to Scottish MPs. This gives an indication of why so many claimants feel they need to obtain this evidence from their GP, even though it is not a formal part of the procedure.
CAB clients experience a range of problems in the WCA The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the most problematic part of these dysfunctional benefit reforms. CAB clients and advisers have reported to us a range of issues with the WCA, including problems with the assessment descriptors, and the fact that the healthcare professionals who conduct the tests do not appear to be listening to the claimant, or who distort their answers. Based upon the experiences of their clients, CAB advisers’ concerns about the WCA include:
- The WCA is often rushed, and can last just 20 minutes, leaving claimants with the impression that they have not been properly assessed
- The yes/no format of the assessment is too narrow, leaving little opportunity for the client to explain their condition
- The health care professionals often fail to listen or interact with the client, which can lead to mistakes and a failure to properly assess conditions
- The descriptors often do not cover a client’s condition, especially mental health conditions, and are not based on ‘real world’ capabilities.
A number of advisers have told us the problems that clients had reported to them regarding the inadequacies of the assessment and the conduct of the ATOS professionals conducting the test:
“Clients all say the same thing. They say ‘I was only in for 20 to 25 minutes, they just asked me questions, they never looked at me or examined me…’ I myself have attended two of these tests so I know what people tell me is the truth.”
“I have had many comments from clients about the Health Care Professionals who carry out medicals. They do not appear to listen to their answers, they do not look up from the computer screen, everything is rushed with clients given no opportunity to try and explain their situation. Also there are many comments about the medical report stating things that had never been said.”