By John Pring
GPs have piled new pressure on the government after unanimously calling for it to scrap its controversial “fitness for work” tests.
The British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual conference of local medical committees, which represent GPs, passed a motion this week calling for the work capability assessment (WCA) to “end with immediate effect”.
They agreed that the assessment – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – should be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.
The motion – which was also approved by Scottish GPs in March – says that the computer-based assessments “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons”.
It was passed as the GP who submitted the motion to the conference of Scottish GPs, Dr Stephen Carty, told Disability News Service how one of his patients had tried to kill himself following a WCA.
Dr Carty, who is medical adviser to the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, is urging the government to create a mechanism to allow doctors to report similar cases in which a patient has been harmed as a result of the WCA process.
In the wake of this week’s vote, which means the motion is now official policy of the BMA’s GPs committee, a BMA spokeswoman said: “We have said that the government needs to look at it again and come up with a better solution.
“It is something the committee will push in discussions with the government over the next year.”
The assessment has caused mounting anger among disabled activists since its introduction by the Labour government in 2008.
They believe it fails to test accurately disabled people’s ability to work, particularly those with mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and has even contributed to or caused the deaths of some of those who have been inaccurately assessed.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: “When 40 per cent of appeals against the assessments are successful at tribunal hearings, something is clearly very wrong with the system.
“Being in work is good for people’s overall health and well-being, but GPs are seeing too many patients who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit coming in very concerned and confused by the system.
“It’s not fair on these patients but it could also have a wider impact as well – having a lower income may lead to people having a poorer quality of health and could therefore increase health inequalities for our nation as a whole.
“The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose.”
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said that despite changes to the WCA implemented following reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington, “nobody working with sick and disabled people, or disabled people themselves, have seen any improvements to the system”.
He said: “In fact, the system has gotten far, far worse for us and we expect exactly the same thing to happen with the abolition of disability living allowance and the introduction of personal independence payment.”
He added: “This is just the beginning. We fight on until all professional bodies and indeed all of civil society, join with us and the medical profession in refusing to be complicit in policies and systems that are killing sick and disabled people and driving a great many more into penury and destitution.”
The DWP has so far refused to comment on this week’s conference vote.