This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

pul jul aug2020 cover 80x101px
Read the latest issue online

Independents' Day

GPs should provide information for every fitness for work assessment, urges BMA

GPs should be asked to provide factual information for every Work Capability Assessment to enable ‘better-informed decisions’ to be made about their patient’s eligibility for benefits, says the BMA.

In a letter to the Government sent this month, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said the current process is ‘insufficiently rigorous and consistent’ and causes ‘avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society.’

The news comes as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is planning to pilot a new approach to collecting information from claimants’ GPs, though a spokesperson could not confirm any details about the pilots as ‘options are still being considered’.

Dr Porter expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in implementing the recommendations of a review in 2010 into the DWP scheme to assess claimant’s fitness for work, run by private company Atos.

The review - by House of Lords and House of Commons select committees advisor Professor Malcolm Harrington, recommended further documentary evidence was obtained for every Work Capability Assessment before making a final decision on whether they could seek Employment and Support Allowance. Currently 40% of decisions are overturned at the appeal stage.

Dr Porter said the BMA had ‘continuing concerns’ about the programme and expressed his concern that the recommendations from Professor Harrington had not been implemented.

The letter said: ‘If the recommendation is implemented appropriately, with GPs providing factual information, it should result in better-informed decisions being made about eligibility for ESA by DWP decision makers, earlier in the process.’

This would lead to better-informed decisions, and would save GPs time, he said.

He added: ‘As well as making the system fairer for claimants, this should also significantly reduce the administrative cost of dealing with so many appeals.’

Dr Porter also called for an urgent update on the pilots proposed by the DWP to look into new approaches of collecting evidence to support claims.

A DWP spokesperson said: ’We are considering options for piloting a new approach to collecting further medical evidence in support of a claimant’s application for Employment and Support Allowance. We are not yet in a position to give further details.’

‘As always we are keen to strike the appropriate balance between seeking the right information for making a decision on someone’s benefits, and avoiding placing undue burdens on GPs.’

Readers' comments (9)

  • The assessment process is indeed very inconsistent.I have one patient with spinal muscular atrophy and severe kyphoscoliosis told that he is fit for work whilst another who clearly knows how to play the system,has won his appeal at a tribunal for ESA on grounds of "fibromyalgia" and "depression".Now he is trying to get DLA!The system is not fit for purpose and so easy to manipulate.Frankly soft diagnoses such as depression and fibromyalgia should never be considered.I have been arguing for a long time that only conditions on a "whitelist" should be considered while all others rejected.However as with any other politically unpopular decision the government has passed the buck on to someone else( and our representatives should strongly oppose that.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • "Soft diagnosis such as depression and Fibromyalgia" your ignorance is astounding.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I don't disagree with need for better information.

    But the fees? Currently, form for information for ESA is provided by GP without a fee. Frankly, I don't believe I'm here to help the benefit system and I should be using my time to help patients for their medical conditions.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • But what happens when the benefit system becomes a major part of the problem and exasperates an already demonised by the press diagnosis of depression.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • If the NHS’s very first priority is a person’s health and well being, why should DWP’s be any different? Any NHS process producing the same rate of error as the WCA would have been replaced long ago due to public outrage. Why should DWP be given any more latitude? DWP will not categorically state that it shares this priority, which is patently obvious from its actions. Its priority is to slash the benefits bill come what may and regardless of the collateral damage along the way. It takes the view that the appeals process will sort out its errors, which is a cost out of somebody else’s budget.
    Whether one works or not is part of the treatment and recuperation process so how can the two be separated as they are now?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I hate DLA forms, I want to practice medicine

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The 40% success rate at appeals is quite misleading as this figure includes all appeals. Basically there are 3 different types of hearing. 1 - a paper hearing, where a tribunal sits and decides the issues without hearing evidence, 2 - an oral hearing with an unrepresented appellant, 3 - an oral hearing with the appellant and a representative.
    Hearing type 1 and 2 have a low success rate, whilst type 3 has a success rate of between 75% and 80%.
    Sadly the Government has removed legal aid for representatives to help people, so organizations such as CAB'x have had massive funding cuts so help from representatives is now limited with those organizations who can help facing mounting pressure with excessive caseloads.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • already given up hope NI GP


    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • There's no easy answer to this.
    On the one hand I have patients who don't know how to work the system, end up losing benefits because they don't know which box to tick, how to answer questions "correctly."
    On the other hand I am receiving requests for reports from DWP/ ATOS in relation to patients who I didn't even know were on the sick who are perfectly capable of working.
    I've been a GP for more than 25 years and this is a political nettle that the present government has had to grasp because of the financial melt down.
    Either way I don't agree with the BMA that I should complete a form for every patient involved in the process. We already have enough electronic boxes to tick!
    Sometimes I do wonder why I pay my BMA membership?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say