A GP’s report on a man who later died from suicide was ignored by the Department for Work and Pensions, who declared him fit for work under the controversial work capability assessment process, the inquest into his death has revealed.
In what is being hailed a ‘ground-breaking’ verdict by disability rights campaigners, the coroner ruled that Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide had been triggered by the DWP decision to rule him fit to work.
The coroner’s report – uncovered by the Disability News Service – said the DWP had ignored the GP’s assessment, which concluded he was not well enough for work, as well as the views of his psychiatrist and clinical psychologist.
Mr O’Sullivan had been on disability income support for over 10 years as a result of anxiety and depression, but had to reapply for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).
His claim for ESA was turned down, despite describing suicidal thoughts – and he died by suicide six months later.
The inquest into his death took place early in 2014 but coroner Mary Hassell’s report has only just come to light in the past two weeks.
In the verdict, Ms Hassell stated: ‘The anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the DWP (benefits agency) as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that.’
The full coroner’s report describes how the doctor who carried out Mr O’Sullivan’s WCA for Atos – the company then responsible for the assesments – found him fit to work but had failed to take into account further medical evidence from any of his doctors during the assessment, telling him that the DWP would look at that evidence.
However, the DWP did not request any reports or letters from his GP, who had assessed him as not well enough to work, nor from his psychiatrist who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression and panic disorder, or his clinical psychologist who had assessed him as ‘very anxious and showing signs of clinical depression’.
The coroner’s report said: ‘The DWP assessing doctor (who saw Mr O’Sullivan for a 90 minute consultation) did not take into account the views of any of Mr O’Sullivan’s treating doctors, saying that the ultimate decision maker would do that.
‘However, the ultimate decision maker (who is not, I understand, medically qualified) did not request and so did not see any reports or letters from Mr O’Sullivan’s general practitioner (who had assessed him as being unfit for work), his psychiatrist or his clinical psychologist.’
The coroner concluded that the DWP ‘should take action to prevent future deaths’.
The DWP said in response that it has a ‘clear policy’ that further medical evidence should be sought if claimants reported suicidal ideation, ‘which regrettably was not followed in this case’, adding that it would ’issue a reminder to staff about the relevant guidance’.
Dr Stephen Carty, a GP in Leith who has campaigned against the WCA with the Black Triangle campaign, said the verdict demonstrated there was ‘a direct link between the DWP, the work capability assessment and patients dying’.
Dr Carty said: ‘This is what activists and the public have been saying for years, and this is the first time it has come out that a senior coroner has actually said, in a formal inquiry into the death, that it happened because of the decision.’