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Legal threat over GP refusal to support benefit appeals dropped

Exclusive Campaigners have dropped the threat of legal action against LMCs who advised GPs to refuse to provide patients with evidence to support their appeals against their benefits being cut.

Pulse has learnt that the Black Triangle Campaign has decided not to pursue legal action and instead work with the BMA to provide GPs with better advice about how to deal with requests from patients who are facing having their benefits being withdrawn.

Lawyers representing the campaign group were examining 10 cases where individuals may have been disadvantaged or discriminated against by refusals from GPs to provide medical evidence for appeals.

In September Pulse revealed that disability campaign groups, Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), were considering legal action against LMCs for distributing template benefit request refusal letters, which it called ‘staggeringly ignorant’.

The template letters were a response to a 21% increase in requests for GPs to verify work capability since January 2013, after attempts to cut the welfare budget brought thousands of additional patients up for review.

Public Interest Lawyers had taken on the case on behalf of the Black Triangle Campaign, but this action has been stopped after meetings with the BMA last month.

Campaign leaders met with BMA representatives on 10 December, to discuss – among other things – how they could go about reducing the burden that requests for supporting evidence place on GPs, while still protecting those who could be harmed if found fit for work.

At the meeting, the BMA agreed to work on ideas on how to flag the risk of ‘avoidable harm’ for patients who would be vulnerable if found ‘fit to work’ under the Department for Work and Pensions scheme to get people back to work.

John McArdle, head of the Black Triangle campaign group told Pulse that they were ‘sympathetic’ to the problems that requests for supporting evidence posed GPs, who are not paid for the additional work.

When Pulse asked whether the legal challenge had been dropped he said: ‘Yes, [we identified that] working together with the BMA to provide GPs with advice is the best way to address this issue.’

‘We’re just a campaign primarily concerned with harm reduction. So is the BMA, and GPs are as well. This treats the cause rather than the symptoms; it gets to the root of the problem.’

GPC negotiator Dr Dean Marshall said that they had invited suggestions from Black Triangle’s medical advisor, Dr Stephen Carty, about ways GPs could quickly flag up vulnerable patients before they reach the appeals stage.

He told Pulse: ‘[Black Triangle and the BMA] share a lot of the same views, but it’s about making sure that the information that the GP gets at an early stage; one, means people don’t need to get a medical; and two, people [disability assessors] will know the potential consequences of a finding that they’re ‘fit for work’.’

He added: ‘One of the issues is that the forms that GP’s are asked to fill in, aren’t very user friendly. They ask lots of questions that the GP’s don’t have answers too. The argument is going to be around, how do you work out who is at substantial risk, but that’s for the individual GP to decide.’