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Government Should Help GPs Provide Evidence For Disabled Patients In Benefit Appeals

4 May 2013

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 tests,1 and these tests have 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.”

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