Exclusive Additional GP evidence has been requested for around a third of all incapacity and employment benefit claims, show new figures that demonstrate the rising workload of the Government’s austerity policies for practices.
Pulse has obtained figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that show that additional medical evidence was needed in 305,533 incapacity benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims over five months.
The new figures come as a Pulse survey shows that GPs support almost two-thirds of patients after they request help in their appeals against having their benefits withdrawn.
The survey of 449 GPs showed that, on average, they had supported 60% of requests for additional help from patients over the past 12 months. Around 10% of respondents said they had been asked to help patients more than 100 times over that period.
Figures obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act last year showed a 21% increase in ESA requests to medical professionals – the majority of whom are GPs – on behalf of the Government in the first three months of 2013, compared with the previous year.
Now new figures obtained by Pulse reveal that, between September 2013 and February 2014, doctors were asked for additional medical evidence by DWP contractor Atos for a third of incapacity and ESA claims – some 305,533 cases in total.
A DWP spokesperson told Pulse requests for additional evidence were sent to GPs when face-to-face assessments are ‘clearly unnecessary’.
But GPs warn that the requests come as they cope with rising levels of work from benefit changes, with the pressure for them to support patient appeals becoming intolerable.
Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC said: ‘GPs are being asked to provide specific letters – sometimes appropriately, sometimes not – which can cause difficulties in consultations.
‘These sorts of requests are certainly worse in the past year or two. It’s a combination of the recession generally and the Government’s welfare cuts.’
Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Sefton, Merseyside, said the additional workload resulting from social problems is becoming ‘ridiculous’.
‘My staff are spending a lot of time on this and a lot of booked appointments turn out to be patients expressing dissatisfaction about their [benefits] claims.’
Despite this figures released by the DWP in November 2013 showed that GP evidence was the deciding factor in only 2.9% of benefits cases.
About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 21 January 2013, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 28 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey.
As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. These questions were answered by 449 GPs.