A ‘fresh, honest and in-depth evaluation’ of how the benefits system supports terminally ill patients is to take place, the work and pensions secretary has said.
It follows heavy criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s rule that terminally patients must have six months or less to live to get fast access to benefits.
The current ‘special rules’ guidelines allow patients’ welfare support, such as personal independence payments and universal credit, to be processed more quickly and at a higher amount..
But an inquiry led by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness earlier this month criticised the process as ‘outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality’.
However, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd today called for an evaluation of the system supporting patients near the end of life.
She has ordered the DWP to consult doctors, as well as nurses, patients and others affected, which may include those who backed the ‘scrap six months’ campaign, an initiative organised by the charities Marie Curie and Motor Neurone Disease Association, which gathered almost 17,000 signatures.
Pulse previously reported the requirements can be unclear to GPs, with many incorrectly believing that the system only applies to cancer patients and that they might be held accountable if the patient lives longer than six months.
A third of GPs have never signed a DS1500 form, which authorises fast-tracked benefits, for a condition other than cancer.
Citing personal experiences after her ex-husband AA Gill died of cancer in 2016, Ms Rudd said: ‘Having a life-limiting illness or severe condition can cause unimaginable suffering for the patient and for their loved ones.
‘Having seen it in my own family, I know that the last thing you need is additional financial pressures or unnecessary assessments.
‘So that’s why today I am beginning work on a fresh and honest evaluation of our benefits system so that I can be sure that people who are nearing the end of their life are getting the best possible support..’
She added: ‘I hope that this comprehensive evaluation of how we treat those with severe conditions and terminal illnesses will help ensure these vulnerable people get the support they need from our benefits system.
‘I want people to have confidence in what we do at the DWP, ensuring no one is suffering unnecessary hardship at this especially difficult time.’
Benefit processes for those with the most severe or progressive conditions were recently updated to remove unnecessary reassessments, according to the DWP, but Ms Rudd is keen to examine them again, to determine if the DWP can further engage with claimants who meet this criteria.
RCGP’s Marie Curie end-of-life lead Dr Catherine Millington-Sanders told Pulse: ‘This inquiry into the benefit system is welcome support for GPs looking after our terminally ill patients and those important to them.
‘As a GP with a special interest in end of life care, I see first hand the anxiety-provoking impact that unnecessary financial assessments and hardship can have on people.
‘An evidence-based approach and learning from what works well here and in other countries is a solid start for us to best understand how to support people and their loved ones, according to their needs, irrespective of prognosis.’
While Marie Curie welcomed this announcement, chief executive Matthew Reed stated: ‘The review must be focused and quick, and the Government must act at pace when the review is concluded. Every day, ten people die while waiting for benefits.’