This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Read the latest issue online

CAMHS won't see you now

GP's report on suicidal man was ignored during work capability assessment

A GP’s report on a man who later died from suicide was ignored by the Department for Work and Pensions, who declared him fit for work under the controversial work capability assessment process, the inquest into his death has revealed.

In what is being hailed a ‘ground-breaking’ verdict by disability rights campaigners, the coroner ruled that Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide had been triggered by the DWP decision to rule him fit to work.

The coroner’s report – uncovered by the Disability News Service – said the DWP had ignored the GP’s assessment, which concluded he was not well enough for work, as well as the views of his psychiatrist and clinical psychologist.

Mr O’Sullivan had been on disability income support for over 10 years as a result of anxiety and depression, but had to reapply for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

His claim for ESA was turned down, despite describing suicidal thoughts – and he died by suicide six months later.

The inquest into his death took place early in 2014 but coroner Mary Hassell’s report has only just come to light in the past two weeks.

In the verdict, Ms Hassell stated: ‘The anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the DWP (benefits agency) as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that.’

The full coroner’s report describes how the doctor who carried out Mr O’Sullivan’s WCA for Atos - the company then responsible for the assesments - found him fit to work but had failed to take into account further medical evidence from any of his doctors during the assessment, telling him that the DWP would look at that evidence.

However, the DWP did not request any reports or letters from his GP, who had assessed him as not well enough to work, nor from his psychiatrist who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression and panic disorder, or his clinical psychologist who had assessed him as ‘very anxious and showing signs of clinical depression’.

The coroner’s report said: ‘The DWP assessing doctor (who saw Mr O’Sullivan for a 90 minute consultation) did not take into account the views of any of Mr O’Sullivan’s treating doctors, saying that the ultimate decision maker would do that.

‘However, the ultimate decision maker (who is not, I understand, medically qualified) did not request and so did not see any reports or letters from Mr O’Sullivan’s general practitioner (who had assessed him as being unfit for work), his psychiatrist or his clinical psychologist.’

The coroner concluded that the DWP ‘should take action to prevent future deaths’.

The DWP said in response that it has a ‘clear policy’ that further medical evidence should be sought if claimants reported suicidal ideation, ‘which regrettably was not followed in this case’, adding that it would ’issue a reminder to staff about the relevant guidance’.

Dr Stephen Carty, a GP in Leith who has campaigned against the WCA with the Black Triangle campaign, said the verdict demonstrated there was ‘a direct link between the DWP, the work capability assessment and patients dying’.

Dr Carty said: ‘This is what activists and the public have been saying for years, and this is the first time it has come out that a senior coroner has actually said, in a formal inquiry into the death, that it happened because of the decision.’

Readers' comments (10)

  • Why has it taken so long for this report to appear?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Vinci Ho

    Some people could criticise activists as too left winged and benefit system is ruining economy. But it is about balance of fairness.
    The truth is a right wing government(wanting to move more to the right) will always tend to ignore social justice and be obsessed economic growth in the expenses of people's lives.
    'Those with no virtue holding high position in the government spread the evil through the most.'
    So, IDS, are going to just find a scapegoat in your department and put all the blame on him/her, so that you come out clean again??

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Dr screws up- gmc, sued, can lose livelihood.
    DWP contractors declare fit for work - assessment company shares rise, suicides rise.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This comment has been moderated

  • Most gps are well aware of the awful fitness for work system and the abject failure of atos
    This is only the tip of the iceberg
    This is the true nature of this execrable government
    The brutal abuse of the disabled and vulnerable by this government is unacceptable and inexcusable
    Worse this was all about outsourcing to private unaccountable companies cowardly hiding behind so called commercial confidentiality ..a disease being caught by the misnomers called trusts
    Every single outsourcing has been a wasteful catastrophe
    I hope there is a hell for some people
    In this world I hope they will become personally accountable and at least in the future suffer deservedly in their consciences for their immoral and evil regime

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Took Early Retirement

    Isn't this manslaughter by gross negligence?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Sad though it is that this man killed himself - it is a known fact that some depressed and suicidal patients will kill themselves despite the best efforts of all healthcare professionals involved.

    Social isolation from being signed off could in fact make people worse, and actually returning to a work environment can be helpful in providing people with MH problems some self worth and confidence and social interaction, and lead to recovery.

    Blanket knee jerk reactions in any direction are unhelpful, and just a degree of caution before we all sign off every person who reports anxiety/depression off for life, just in case they self harm.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Vinci Ho

    Yes. Understand the argument from the other side . Obviously , we do not have every detail of this case but I do believe we have a independent judicial system and if the verdict of the judge is going in the direction of 'malpractice' of DWP , IDS , as a Secretary of State , has a duty to face the public ,

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • sad story, but let's face facts. a lot of esa claimants for depression are not in any shape or form depressed, it's just an easy route to free money. if the government were stricter on these things, with more robust assessments, these things wouldn't happen.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This comment has been removed by the moderator

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Locum GPs like 12:43 above earn in an hour the amount this guy was refused for a week
    8:25, that would be the case IF he had had a job to 'return' to
    It's quite difficult to believe medical school is so hard to get into

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say