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Why being a disability tribunal GP is my dream part-time job

In the run-up to retirement Dr Elizabeth Scott was looking for ways to keep her medical skills alive outside surgery ­ she explains how she found the perfect solution

In the run-up to retirement Dr Elizabeth Scott was looking for ways to keep her medical skills alive outside surgery ­ she explains how she found the perfect solution

I was coming up to retirement and did not want to hang on in my own practice working part-time because I felt my partners needed to feel free to change things as they wanted. However, I was not quite ready to bow out of medical care. Then a colleague who sits on disability tribunals suggested I apply to be a panel member.

My qualifications were 30 years of general practice and the increasing interest in the effect of disability on a family or individual that working with patients gives most of us.

I applied 15 years ago in the early days of the Appeals Service, was interviewed by a lawyer involved with the tribunal system, and thereafter was entered for induction training. I learned to call the person coming to tribunal an 'appellant', not a patient.

I learned that though the physical and mental condition of the patient governs their appeal, the decision is made on the basis of statutory provisions. Training is continuous and mandatory, as is appraisal, and this counts towards revalidation.

How do tribunals work?

Basically the Government pays money to people who are unable to walk, or virtually unable to walk, or are so disabled physically or mentally that they require help from another person to reach their destination, ignoring familiar routes. It also pays people who need care with their bodily functions.

This is done in three increasing stages, depending on the amount of care needed. All this is laid out in legal language and although the medical conditions may leave you feeling sympathetic ­ or not ­ it is the legal provisions that prevail and have to be understood by all the members of the tribunal.

A tribunal is made up of a lawyer, who sits as chair, and two members ­ one a doctor and the other a lay member who is disabled or has experience and knowledge of disability. The members of the tribunal are randomly chosen so that impartiality is maintained.

There is no doubt that if you are sitting on a disability tribunal you are able to disburse sizeable amounts of your country's budget. When you think of where your income tax is going, you begin to realise that you need to make the right decisions.I began to sit on tribunals before I retired, setting aside one day a week for them.

The experience made me even more aware that in practice we seldom ask patients how their incapacity impinges on their lives. I became proactive in referring my arthritic patients to the occupational therapists and, depending on their report, I often suggested an application for disability living allowance (DLA). I think my patients benefited from my involvement with DLA tribunals. I cannot think of a better part-time occupation for a GP with a holistic interest.

My medical advice is sometimes discounted by the other two members. If I think they are wrong, I stick to my guns. It is then up to them whether to overrule me and report a majority verdict, but that is why there is a variety of disciplines in the tribunal.

It may be that one or other of my colleagues has personal knowledge of a condition that colours their decision completely. They may even be right. All I have to be sure of is that I have mastered all the facts and am prepared for any question.

How do you apply? The best way is to go to the Appeals Service website (www.appeals-service.gov.uk) which lists vacancies and the conditions for appointment. Alternatively, ask a colleague who sits on tribunal to alert you when there is a vacancy. They are not all that frequent.

Elizabeth Scott was an NHS GP in Edinburgh for 30 years ­ she now works in private practice, with an interest in problems of sleep, and also writes for medical magazines

What's involved

  • The job ­ part-time work as medically qualified appeals service panel member
  • The qualifications ­ full registration, experience of the medical problems associated with disability and normally aged 35 to 65
  • The pay ­ £137.50 per 3.5-hour session
  • Vacancies and details ­ check out www.appeals-service.gov.uk, and if still interested e-mail Dianne.Fairhurst@appeals-service.gsi.gov.uk

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