Local Medical Councils (LMCs) have been warned they may face legal action over advice telling doctors to shun requests from benefit claimants asking for help with the notorious Work Capability Assessment.
The Black Triangle Campaign and Disabled People Against Cuts have said that even individual doctors themselves may be at risk of being sued should they refuse to provide this vital and sometimes life-saving support for claimants.
Two LMCs have issued advice to GPs warning them not to provide letters for claimants who face the stringent Atos run test for sickness and disability benefits. According to Pulse Today, the LMC in Lancashire and Cumbria is even considering a ‘Just Say No’ campaign to back doctors who refuse to write letters for patients undergoing assessments and appeals.
Some GPs – who are paid on average £104,000 a year – have complained that writing these letters, which confirm or provide medical opinion on a claimant’s condition, is taking up too much time and they don’t get paid for it. There has certainly been an increase in the number of people asking doctors for this kind of help as the current benefit slashing regime has taken hold. But this kind of information can be the difference between someone seriously ill being given the money they need to survive or face having benefits stripped away and even sent on long term workfare.
GPs submitting evidence to the DWP is often the only time that an actual doctor has a say in what happens to their patients in the benefits system. Without this information claimants are left in the hands of Atos assessors, whose only job requirement is a medical qualification of some sort – often meaning they are physiotherapists, midwives or paramedics. Should a claimant be judged ‘fit for work’ they will see their meagre income slashed by around a third. This can have real impacts on claimants who need to keep warm, have special dietary needs or other costs associated with their condition. They will then be left at the mercy of medically unqualified Jobcentre staff and could be sent on Mandatory Work Activity or other unpaid work schemes under threat of brutal benefit sanctions.
Nobody is asking GPs to lie or do anything but offer an honest assessment of a patient’s condition. This is something they do everyday when issuing ‘fit notes’ for workers who have had to take time off work. In fact every single person on an out of work sickness or disability benefit has been signed off work by a GP at some point. They cannot simply wash their hands of responsibility for these patients now the Government is challenging those decisions.
Local Medical Councils could be helping GPs to provide all the necessary information claimants need as efficiently as possible. It’s not difficult to imagine ways they could come up with to cut down the time spent by GPs writing these letters. Already template letters produced by Black Triangle show how the ESA Regulations 29 and 35 can be used by doctors to quickly and easily exempt vulnerable patients from the assessment procedure altogether.
But instead some LMCs are seeking to drive a wedge between patients and GPs by punishing claimants for an additional workload placed on them by the DWP. Claimants who in an increasing number of cases have been driven to suicide by these brutal and bodged assessments and the misery they have inflicted. At such a desperate time for so many of the UK’s poorest people it seems some GPs have decided to work to rule and abandon huge swathes of the communities they serve. We are clearly not all in it together.
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