THOUSANDS of benefit claimants are being subjected to stressful fitness-for-work tests because GPs are failing to provide the the Department for Work and Pensions with medical information on time.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show family doctors provided information requested by the DWP in only 60% of cases – despite it being required under their contracts.
Medical information supplied by GPs is taken into account when the DWP considers claims for employment support allowance, a key benefit for people unable to work on health grounds.
In cases where the information is supplied on time, more than half of claimants were not required to undergo a test, known as Work Capability Assessments, which are carried out by private contractor ATOS.
Michael MacMahon, the convener of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, said:
“This shows that the whole work capability assessment process has been ill thought-out and simply isn’t working. It is important that everyone remembers that we’re talking about dealing with some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“We need to ask questions about whether the process is right, whether it meets the needs of applicants and whether there are ways of simplifying it for everyone involved.
“It’s time for people to stop passing the buck, stop trying to avoid responsibility and we need to bring government, GPs and ATOS together to sort out this mess.”
DWP figures released in response to an FoI request from Mr MacMahon show there were 71,023 requests for medical information across Scotland in the 12 months to the end of February.
Doctors responded within the 14-day deadline in 58.9% of cases. Later responses were received in a further 22.9% of cases, but it is unclear whether they arrived in time to allow a decision on scrapping a medical examination.
Where doctors supplied the requested information, the medical test was dropped in 52.6% of cases. The tests, part of the Government’s drive to move people off sickness benefits, have been blamed for causing stress.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said:
“There are a number of possible explanations for information requests not being returned by GPs in time. These include the request being sent to the wrong GP, incorrect information being requested or short timescales in which to provide the information requested.”
“The BMA is very concerned about the impact that UK welfare reform legislation is having on the people of Scotland.
“There has been a significant impact on general practices, especially those who have a high population of patients in receipt of incapacity benefits.”