For some months now our campaign has been encouraging GPs and patients to avail themselves of ESA Reguations 29 and 35 as a means to protect sick and/or disabled people who are at risk of avoidable harm by being inappropriately found ‘fit-for-work’ or capable of work-related activity and thus placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) with all of its attendant sanctions for failure to comply.
We have been lobbying hard for the BMA to publicise these regulations among doctors but our efforts have thus far proved fruitless.
We have encountered a number of obstacles which too complex to go into in detail in this post but here are some points:
‘… a doctor must (overriding duty or principle) take prompt action if he feels that “patient safety is or may be seriously compromised by inadequate… policies or systems.’
The Department for Work and Pensions said:
“Our sympathy goes out to Mr McArdle’s family during what is obviously a very difficult time.
“Through employment and support allowance (ESA), we help people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable of doing so, while giving unconditional support to those who need it.
“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face-to-face assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.
“We encourage people to provide as much medical evidence as possible when they apply for ESA. Often, people found fit for work only provide the necessary evidence when they ask for a reconsideration or an appeal.”
Atos Healthcare said:
“Our sympathies are with the friends and family of Mr McArdle.
“Although we cannot comment on individual cases, our trained doctors, nurses and physio-therapists strictly follow the guidelines given to them by the Government when conducting assessments, which form a single, although important, part of the process.”
In this maelstrom of conflicting interests between the ethical versus contractual considerations confronting the BMA and the medical profession and those of us as sick and/or disabled people being systematically abused and deprived of their fundamental human rights by the Condem government and the DWP-AtoS régime:
Our campaign demands and asserts that the conundrum be resolved in a manner that reconciles all of the above – the most ethical solution must be one that causes the least harm to patients.
The BMA’s current position is unsustainable and they must convene a top-level meeting with us without any further ado.
When is someone in the medical establishment going to take a moral and ethical lead?
Patients are dying while the chaos described in the article below is permitted to endure.
In the meantime, pending resolution of these matters, we strongly advise all sick and/or disabled people who have good cause to believe that their lives, health and well-being would placed at substantial risk of harm were they to be found fit-for-work or placed in the WRAG to encourage their GPs to use our letters invoking Regulations 29 and 35 as a template.
It is important to remember that whether or not your GP agrees to invoke these regulations involves a judgment of complex clinical risk management. Any information which you can provide them as to why you think you would be placed at risk is likely to be helpful to them in making their judgment. We believe that in a very substantial number of cases it will likely be a clear-cut decision owing to the nature of the particular illness(es) and impairments presented by the individual patient in question.
Under no circumstances would we condone any inappropriate acts or behaviour on the part of patients to coerce their doctor into invoking these regulations against the GPs clinical and ethical judgment.
From the practitioner’s point of view, we have found that the use of this template has proven to be of great assistance in reducing time spent filling out forms, digging out medical records and writing additional letters of support. In a great many cases the costly and stressful need for a Tribunal hearing to take place at all has been avoided as the DWP Decision Makers have re-instated benefits upon receipt of the declaration.
We believe that the mass up-take and dissemination of the regulations provides the solution to the current disastrous and dangerous situation as described to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee below.
BLACK TRIANGLE CAMPAIGN
9th February 2013
By EDDIE BARNES Published on Sunday 3 February 2013 13:18
THOUSANDS of vulnerable claimants are losing out on benefits because GPs are not filling in forms correctly, Scotland on Sunday has learned.
The massive reform process – currently reassessing the sickness benefit claims of thousands of people in Scotland and the UK – has already attracted widespread controversy, with some claiming they are being forced to look for jobs when they cannot work.
New details emerging suggest that a dysfunctional system is to blame, with benefits being wrongly withdrawn purely because forms have not been completed.
Atos, the company supervising the assessments, has suggested that thousands of people are being called in for a review of their benefits because GPs have not sent back forms setting out their medical history as requested. If they had, their benefits might have been left unaltered.
Critics of the government’s welfare reform programme have told MSPs that the welfare system is “broken” and have called for a better approach to helping people on benefits, who are missing out because of an overly complex system.
There is also evidence that when people appeal the loss of their benefits, some GPs are charging up to £100 for a medical report because it falls outside their contract.
There are also accusations that Atos, acting on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, has failed to engage properly with GPs, leading to erroneous decisions being made.
Others claim the views of medical professionals with knowledge of people’s cases – such as psychiatrists and specialist staff – are not being considered before claimants are assessed.
The row revolves around Britain’s 1.5 million claimants of incapacity benefit, who are having their claims reassessed as the UK government seeks to trim the welfare budget.
Figures last week showed that a third are being adjudged capable of working, while a further 41 per cent have been deemed too unwell but told to consider a return to the labour market at a later date.
Evidence presented to Holyrood’s welfare reform committee has now pointed out a series of bureaucratic errors in the process.
It is understood that when considering a person’s benefits eligibility, Atos asks for GP reports in 15 per cent of cases as it seeks evidence on whether to allow the benefit to continue.
MSPs have been told that, in as many as half of these cases, requests do not get answered.
Benefits may be getting slashed as a result.
Scotland on Sunday understands that, in cases where people appeal a reduction in their benefits, two-thirds are successful thanks to the submission of evidence from GPs that had not been retrieved at the start.
The result, it is claimed, is a massive cost to the taxpayer, with appeals costing an estimated £60 million.
Welfare rights groups also claim many people are likely to be falling through the net.
Even if they appeal, it is understood that the process takes around six months to be heard, adding to the stress on people already suffering from physical or mental problems.
Labour MSP Michael McMahon, convener of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, said last night:
“It is shocking that some of our most vulnerable are being left in limbo as sets of papers are sent to and from Atos and GPs.”
“We know how much pressure GPs are under, but it simply is unacceptable for disabled Scots to lose their benefits because lengthy forms haven’t been completed.
“For GPs to then get paid to write a letter when the decision to axe benefits is appealed shows how broken the system is.”
The committee heard evidence that when people request GP support in an appeal, they are sometimes being charged by the family doctor.
Sarah Flavell, of Gordon Rural Action, told MSPs:
“In a particular instance, the GP just said ‘I haven’t got time to do it,’ and then said that the report would cost £96. If we did not have that report, perhaps we would not have been successful in the appeal.”
But GPs say the problem is that they are struggling to meet the extra workload.
One GP in the Springburn area of Glasgow, Dr Georgina Brown, told MSPs that requests for claimant letters were taking up 12 per cent of her consulting time.
She also revealed that there is a patchwork system:
“Some practices have stopped doing letters altogether because they do not have the resources. Of the six practices in the health centre that I work in, three of us do letters and the other three have had to stop because they cannot manage.”
She said GPs were aware of the problems but that:
“there has to be a point at which they put their own health first and get home before eight o’clock at night”.
Others blamed the DWP and Atos, saying they were failing to contact GPs properly at the start of the process.
A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said that GPs would provide letters when requested by the DWP or Atos, but a request from patients or solicitors for support during appeals was a “private request” not covered in their contract.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:
“We have worked hard to reduce the workload on Scottish GPs in order that they can focus on improving outcomes for patients, and we are keen to protect necessary time for GPs to be involved in these vital reforms.
“DWP does not currently publish information on assessments, and if they can tell us about where there are problems in gathering the necessary information from GPs, including where the absence of evidence is affecting individuals’ entitlement to benefits, then we can work with them and health boards to find ways to make the system work better.”
An Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “We contact GPs asking for further medical evidence only when we believe that this may avert the need for a face-to-face assessment.”
Employment minister Mark Hoban said last week: “Getting the Work Capability Assessment right first time is my absolute priority, and I am committed to continually improving the process.”