By Louise Prime
GPs from across the UK have called for the work capability assessment to be scrapped immediately.
They insist that the computer-based assessment is not fit for purpose and must be replaced.
GP representatives at the BMA Local Medical Committees conference in Liverpool this week said the assessment, the main tool used to determine eligibility of those wishing to claim Employment and Support Allowance, must be scrapped because it is harming vulnerable patients.
They demanded that it be replaced by a more rigorous and safer process that considers the needs of patients with long-term illness and disabilities.
Hampshire GP Dr Andrew Holden told delegates at the conference that the system cannot tell the difference between those people who genuinely need to receive incapacity benefit and those who don’t.
He said: “Since the system was introduced in 2008, people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work; people with mental health problems have complained their condition is not taken seriously; and people with complex illnesses say that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems.”
He claimed: “The computer-based assessments are carried out by a healthcare professional – but one not necessarily trained in the field of the patient’s disability, which is particularly important when it comes to mental health issues.”
Dr Dean Marshall, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GPs Committee, agreed. He said: “These assessments can have a devastating effect on our patients’ mental and physical health.
“There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers being assessed as fit to work and a massive number of appeals have been made against these decisions. The frequency of successful appeals seems to us to demonstrate the mechanism’s shortcomings.
“Our patients are very concerned and confused about these assessments. Many are in fear of how they will cope with the removal of, or cuts to, their benefits. Evidence appears to suggest that people with serious health conditions are sometimes being declared fit for work.”
Dr Laurence Buckman (pictured), chair of the BMA’s GPs Committee, told delegates: “When 40% 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.”
GPs at the conference backed Dr Buckman’s conclusion: “The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose.”