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Minister claims GPs are failing to return work capability assessment forms

A minister has claimed that clinicians are only returning a third of requests for work capability assessments, sparking anger from GPs who say they are not given enough time to fill out forms and are asked for information they do not routinely record.

Department for Work and Pensions minister Mark Hoban claimed in Parliament that only 37% of requests for medical information were returned in time by GPs and consultants to Atos, which runs the scheme to assess whether disability benefits claimants are fit for work.

His comments came after MP Heather Wheeler said she had been told of the ‘absolute frustration of GPs and consultants who feel that no account whatever is taken of the fact that they take their time to write the letters’.

‘That is desperately frustrating and a huge waste of public money,’ she added.

Mr Hoban replied: ‘We do ask GPs and consultants to provide medical evidence; we send a form to them. Only 37% of those are returned in time.’

But Dr John Canning, a GP in Middlesbrough and a member of the GPC, said practices were often given too short a deadline to respond to requests.

He said: ‘My job is treating the sick and that is a priority: filling in a form does not necessarily get the same priority. They used to give you three weeks, but it is less than that now.

‘The problem is the nature of the information we are being asked for, as it is not factual. There is actually a fee for filling in DLA forms but they are asking for information that I am not recording, such as “can someone chop vegetables, can they manage hot pans?”.’

Atos and the DWP were heavily criticised in a parliamentary debate on 17 January. Micheal Meacher MP, who introduced the debate, said 41% of Atos decisions were appealed, of which 38% are won.

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: ‘When we receive a work capability assessment referral we will review the case and all the information already present including the customer’s questionnaire.’

‘We look at whether, with additional medical evidence, we can provide advice to the Department for Work and Pensions without the need for a face to face assessment.’

‘If we feel this could be the case we will send a standardised form to their GP or another treating HCP for more information. This assists in only inviting those customers for a face to face assessment where it is required.’

The spokesperson added that the DWP set the time limit for the return of the forms.


Readers' comments (4)

  • The problem is they have near zero ranking in my stupidly overworked day.

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  • "Please reply within 5 working days" it says. I almost always do reply, but more within 2 or occasionally 3 weeks. There's too much more important stuff to do and not enough hours in the day even if you work more than 12 hours every day.

    Also, they've changed the wording (though I'm sure not the rules/legislation) about the contractual obligation to reply. It used to say something about being contractually obliged to complete if you had issued or refused to issue a sickness certificate. Now it says "NHS doctors have a contractual obligation to provide the information requested without charge" which is presumably to mislead us. We certainly cannot charge for these forms but we do NOT have a contractual obligation to provide them in all cases. I keep to the old wording and generally do not complete these forms if I have never issued a Med3 or not issued one in the past 2 years. The exception is if I am actively seeing the patient and know that they would definitely not be fit for work (or indeed if clearly fit for work). When refusing to complete due to this reason I scrawl a note to that effect across the front of the form.

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  • ATOS asks fos these forms to be filled in NHS Time and makes no payment .
    When you are paid for 10 sessions and actually work over 12 sessions these forms naturally go to the bottom of the pile.

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  • I'm posting on behalf of a group of people who have set up a petition to get a Cumulative Impact Assessment of the cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people and an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment.

    We know that many medical professionals are seeing patients suffer due to this process, but that it is also affecting your own workloads, and therefore the time you have to treat your patients' medical problems properly.

    Therefore I hope you might take a look at the petition:

    We have got nearly 20,000 signatures in less than two months, with a publicity budget of £0, which shows the strength of feeling against the WCA. Please consider signing it and sharing it with your fellow professionals. The sooner everyone affected - be they patients, carers or healthcare professionals - make sure the DWP realise how the system is causing problems across the board, the sooner we can get it corrected.

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