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Tory plans to coerce patients into treatment could turn GPs into ‘probation officers’

Conservative Party proposals to reduce benefits for obese patients and patients with addictions who refuse treatment could lead to GPs becoming ‘probation officers’ and ‘inspectors’, GP leaders warn.

The manifesto, released this week, states that patients with ‘long-term, yet treatable conditions’, including drug and alcohol addiction or obesity could have their benefits reduced.

But GPs are concerned that they would be required to turn patients in to the Department for Work and Pensions, which administers disability and ill health benefits.

The Conservative Party would not elaborate on the plans, but said the eventual course of action would be based on findings of a review by Professor Dame Carol Black, a senior Government adviser on health, who will examine how best to get people with treatable conditions back into work.

The Conservative Party manifesto states: ‘We will review how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity, back into work.

‘People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse recommended treatment we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.’

But former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, who has a special interest in addiction, said the policy would adversely affect doctor/patient relationships.

She said: ‘It would mean that GPs have to dob patients in. We will become probation officers rather than advocates for patients.

‘There is an assumption here that people on benefits are bad people. People with addictions often have quite a long line of psychological issues and they do need treatment – but compulsion is a step too far.’

Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the BMA, speaking in a personal capacity, said the idea was ‘appalling’.

He said: ‘It means GPs will have a role as a kind of inspector. It will also make GPs’ workload even heavier because of the reporting, but also because if a person has benefits taken away it could affect their health and they will be coming to see the GP even more than before.’

Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney, who has an interest in evidence-based medicine, has also criticised the plans.

She said in a blog addressed to David Cameron and health secretary Jeremy Hunt: ‘People whose obesity prevents them from working usually have complex, difficult problems. Neither is addiction a choice. Will you force doctors to tell the Department for Work and Pensions?’

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: ‘As the manifesto makes clear, the details of this proposal will be subject to a review under a new Conservative government.’