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.