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Benefit request refusal letters are proving ‘valuable’ for local GPs, says LMC

An LMC has defended its decision to advise GPs to refuse to provide letters of support for patients who wish to appeal the removal of their benefits, saying the stance has been ‘valuable’ to local GPs.

Local leaders in South Staffordshire have been criticised by the local MP and the Citizens Advice Bureau for producing a template letter that enables GPs to refuse to provide letters of support to patients confirming their care needs.

But the LMC leaders have said that GPs do not have the resources to produce such letters for patients and local GPs have found the template letter to be ‘valuable’.

The template letter, produced in May, said: ‘GPs provide general medical services to their patients and we are not in a position to administer nor to police the benefits system. The LMC considers that it is not appropriate for the GP to be asked for letters of support or letter to confirm care needs. GPs are not resourced to provide this service. Time taken up with paperwork is time taken away from direct patient care.’

It added: ‘There are contractual and agreed methods for GPs to provide medical information to the Department for Work and Pensions. These are sent to the GP practice and GPs respond directly to the departments requesting information. Therefore we cannot respond to your request for a letter.’

Pulse previously reported that Bro Taf LMC in south Wales produced a similar letter, which said GPs producing the letters of support was ‘an abuse of NHS resources’, while Lancashire and Cumbria LMCs were planning a ‘Just Say No’ campaign advising GPs to refuse any request beyond those that GPs are contractually obligated to provide.

This follows the news that GPs were struggling to cope with 21% rise in requests to provide evidence to verify work capability assessments since January.

Dr David Dickson, South Staffordshire LMC’s medical secretary, said the LMC has been criticised by the Citizens Advice Bureau and their local MP, but that GPs did not have the resources to provide this support.

He said: ‘The Citizens Advice Bureau and the local MP took it up. They were unhappy some GPs were refusing altogether, and some were charging a sum that was considered to be excessive. It puts GPs in a very difficult position with their patients.

‘There are some patients who could work but in the majority cases the appeals are valid. It has led to very disgruntled patients. But the key thing is that GPs need to have consistent approach - some are charging £5, some charge £50. Those who offer the letters for free make it harder for the GPs that refuse.’

He added: ‘The requests from patients were increasing. The LMC decided this was a stance we would take and produced a letter. It is something the LMC thought long and hard about. The Government is making a mess of the appeals process and they need to sort it out. But this situation has not been caused by GPs and neither are we the solution to it. GPs don’t have the resources. Overall the policy decision and the letter we produced has been valuable to GPs.’