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Legal threat over GP refusal to support benefit appeals dropped

Exclusive Campaigners have dropped the threat of legal action against LMCs who advised GPs to refuse to provide patients with evidence to support their appeals against their benefits being cut.

Pulse has learnt that the Black Triangle Campaign has decided not to pursue legal action and instead work with the BMA to provide GPs with better advice about how to deal with requests from patients who are facing having their benefits being withdrawn.

Lawyers representing the campaign group were examining 10 cases where individuals may have been disadvantaged or discriminated against by refusals from GPs to provide medical evidence for appeals.

In September Pulse revealed that disability campaign groups, Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), were considering legal action against LMCs for distributing template benefit request refusal letters, which it called ‘staggeringly ignorant’.

The template letters were a response to a 21% increase in requests for GPs to verify work capability since January 2013, after attempts to cut the welfare budget brought thousands of additional patients up for review.

Public Interest Lawyers had taken on the case on behalf of the Black Triangle Campaign, but this action has been stopped after meetings with the BMA last month.

Campaign leaders met with BMA representatives on 10 December, to discuss – among other things - how they could go about reducing the burden that requests for supporting evidence place on GPs, while still protecting those who could be harmed if found fit for work.

At the meeting, the BMA agreed to work on ideas on how to flag the risk of ‘avoidable harm’ for patients who would be vulnerable if found ‘fit to work’ under the Department for Work and Pensions scheme to get people back to work.

John McArdle, head of the Black Triangle campaign group told Pulse that they were ‘sympathetic’ to the problems that requests for supporting evidence posed GPs, who are not paid for the additional work.

When Pulse asked whether the legal challenge had been dropped he said: ‘Yes, [we identified that] working together with the BMA to provide GPs with advice is the best way to address this issue.’

‘We’re just a campaign primarily concerned with harm reduction. So is the BMA, and GPs are as well. This treats the cause rather than the symptoms; it gets to the root of the problem.’

GPC negotiator Dr Dean Marshall said that they had invited suggestions from Black Triangle’s medical advisor, Dr Stephen Carty, about ways GPs could quickly flag up vulnerable patients before they reach the appeals stage.

He told Pulse: ‘[Black Triangle and the BMA] share a lot of the same views, but it’s about making sure that the information that the GP gets at an early stage; one, means people don’t need to get a medical; and two, people [disability assessors] will know the potential consequences of a finding that they’re ‘fit for work’.’

He added: ‘One of the issues is that the forms that GP’s are asked to fill in, aren’t very user friendly. They ask lots of questions that the GP’s don’t have answers too. The argument is going to be around, how do you work out who is at substantial risk, but that’s for the individual GP to decide.’

Readers' comments (20)

  • >If you provide a sick note to a patient does this not mean

    It's really simple.

    It is within our contract to provide sick notes (where we feel one is required).

    It is not within our contract to provide medical reports for appeals, follow up attendances or for other purposes (other than those specified in our contracts).

    Doing such work either takes us away from our families or takes us away from other contracted work (like seeing patients with medical problems).

    Whether ATOS assessment irritate us or not is irrelevant (they are terrible IMO, for the record, but this does not mean that we are obliged to take on this work).

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  • First of all I am astounded by the arrogance and the tone of the comments and the total lack of any shred of compassion from Anon 14/1/ 3:42pm.

    “In my practice we had a major problem with this a year or 2 ago when a bunch of young lasses from the job centre”……..
    “I hauled in the manager of that job centre”……..
    “what the hell she was up to and made my point in no uncertain terms”…. .
    ” Anyway we managed to reverse the tide by charging this lot £100 per report and, funny, they eventually decided they didn't need it that badly. Problem solved”

    If this is the consensus of the medical profession we as a nation are totally morally bankrupt. The medical profession is still despite the opinion of some professionals held in high esteem by most if not all of its service users.
    Please remember Medical professionals chose the career. If you want to be paid the wages of a plumber, electrician or any tradesman retrain and see if it’s an eraser life on the other side of the fence. The tradesman is paid for the work he has undertaken. He is not paid in advance for the people who may at some time in the year need to see him at his work premises. He certainly does not take a tax from customers year after year and then charge them at the point of service delivery again.

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  • 'If this is the consensus of the medical profession we as a nation are totally morally bankrupt'
    It's not immoral to make the best use of increasingly limited NHS resources, this is something doctors and nurses have to do every day. This is not to say that we don't sympathise with people whose services are under-resourced - we do. General practice funding has fallen considerably as a percentage of NHS spending and it is simply not possible to prioritize medical care without cuts in other areas.

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  • These anonymous comments from a GP leave a bad taste in the mouth. I can't see why the Ed allows it. If he is genuine and wants to be taken seriously, he should identify himself, in my view.

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  • "He certainly does not take a tax from customers year after year and then charge them at the point of service delivery again."

    That's just the point. They haven't paid for this service in advance, they've paid a retainer for another service.

    This work is NOT in the GP contract.

    And for the record, most of us would love a fee for service system - it would stop the unlimited buffet for healthcare that seems to exist at the moment and would reward us for work that was actually done.

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  • Well said 14th january 12.42....his macho display of .sheer bullying arrogance is pretty the job centre manager was quaking in her boots - not.

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  • yes appeal letters are not compulsory for GP's to do..but the ATOS assessments are so profoundly flawed inhumane and disgraceful in many instances..that i think as a GP myself in my opinion i would be failing some of my patients in the few cases where the wrong by ATOS (a cynical completely unaccountable organisation that even is allowed to refuse foi requests)is so egregious,that i would not write simple factual reports that take 5 minutes to do..or even 1 minute to print out a summary.think if you had a brother 59 with about 5 chronic conditions ludicrously found 'fit for work'..when he had been paying his taxes for a full working life.i have only rarely been asked to do a quick factual report by people i do not the work assessment relies only on a snapshot brief academic functional assessment with no relation to the reality of what employers is often vital for the past medical history to be fact it is outrageous to assess fitness to work without this.or a relative of a patient of mine who was terminally ill and sent a letter asking her to attend for a fitness to work assessment.ATOS is a national disgrace an unaccountable bureaucratic inhumane cynical machine that wastes public money as about 40 per cent of its decisions are overturned as they are so ludicrous.

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  • I'll answer some questions for you

    If you provide a sick note to a patient does this not mean that, in your opinion they are not fit for work?
    Yes, but you'll have to remember we are making this assessment in good faith - i.e. if a patient felt he/she is unable to work we rarely question this unless the reason was obviously flawed.

    Doesn't it agrieve you that your opinion is disregarded after some very perfuntory assessments by ATOS/CAPITA?
    Not really - as their angle is different from mine (see above) and I understand they must doubt the patients claims.

    To have a blanket policy of charging £100 to assist a patient who you have already deemed to be unfit for work, in your opinion, seems uncaring in the extreme.
    Please do not confuse "sympathy" with "responsibility". We may be sympathetic to the patient but that does not entitle patients to impose responsibilities which is not included in our agreed duties.

    Why do you issue sick notes to people you obviously don't believe in?
    You might not realize but we get complaints/sued from aggrevated patients when we don't comply on those grey area (as it is very difficult for a GP to prove patient is fit to work). Actually I think you do realize this as campaigners here have tried to sue!

    Glad you're not my GP....reason i know this? Mine is only too happy to help the patients he believes in...thank goodness all are not like you. Sadens me a lot.....there but for the grace of god and all that jazz.....
    I'm glad you are happy with your GP. I hope your GP is happy to be judging who is worthy of his/her belief. It's a good thing you are in your GP's "I believe you and I will help you" group isn't it? Have you thought about people who might not have managed to get on to your GP's good books? Personally, I try to be non judgemental and be fair to all - hence I will charge a reasonable fee for all private work, regardless of their circumstances.

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  • Surely some patients are given notes for various reasons and not purely because they are not fit for work.
    Charging for a report is not the issue for a lot of us and that is why I don't charge but I still get a comments from patients "made by others of course" that it was because of my letter that they were found fit for work or they lost their
    DLA or any benefits for which I supplied them with a supportive report .hence my reluctance to write such reports.

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  • GPs should always act in the best medical interest of their patients.
    A GP may hold the essential evidence that is crucial to the Law being applied correctly for their patient..
    Appellants at Employment and disability tribunals rarely have lawyers acting for them.

    GPs have the potential to cause direct harm to their patients by withholding key medical evidence purely because vulnerable patients are unable to pay unaffordable sums for getting a manager to press the "print record" button on their IT system. If this was in a crown court a GP would not receive remuneration as a witness.

    If you are unwilling to help your vulnerable patients by withholding key evidence, then are you in the right profession?
    Maybe tabloid journalism, or city banker may be a more suitable career?


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