Angry disability campaigners are staging a street protest against a programme placing ‘job coaches’ in GP surgeries, arguing it is threatening the doctor-patient relationship.
Organisers behind the ‘Surgeries for Treatment, Job Centre for Jobs’ protest to be held on 4 March warned that the ‘Working Better’ scheme – rolled out across six GP practices in Islington last September – would ‘destroy’ the trust between doctors and patients in the north London borough.
But NHS Islington CCG said that the programme run by Islington Council was ‘entirely voluntary’ and ’offering advice and guidance to patients who have expressed an interest in returning to work’.
Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Boycott Workfare are furious about employment coaches from Remploy – the former Government agency turned for-profit company – being placed in six GP surgeries in Islington.
MHRN said on its Facebook page: ’We are worried about it pushing people in mental distress and struggling with their health conditions over the edge, plus it will destroy the doctor-patient relationship with trust and confidentiality.’
But Dr Josephine Sauvage, the joint vice chair of NHS Islington CCG and a GP at City Road Medical Practice said the programme can help patients.
She said: ‘When we become ill we often stop doing those things that get us out and about and bring fulfilment to our lives.
’This pilot, which is entirely voluntary, can prescribe free and confidential employment coaching. Delivered in a caring and familiar environment, this can be really beneficial to a patient’s confidence and self-esteem, as well as their long-term recovery.’
A CCG spokesperson stressed that the local pilot ‘will have no impact whatsoever on receipt of benefits’, adding that ’if, at any time, a patient decides they no longer wish to be involved in the pilot, they are able to leave’.
Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, said: ‘Concerns about our Working Better scheme are misplaced. Let’s be clear: the scheme is entirely voluntary and not linked, in any way, to any welfare-to-work conditionality or sanctions regime.
‘No-one is or will be made to see an employment support coach if they do not want to and no client’s information is shared with Jobcentre Plus. No disabled person who is unable to work should be made to.’