A man with incurable brain cancer has been found to be fit for work by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) assessors, a GP has revealed.
NHS GP Dr MayJay Ali said the man, who is undergoing regular treatment to prolong his life, is among a number of her patients to have lost benefits and been told they have to work on the basis of snapshot assessments which ignore medical realities.
Charities say they are regularly contacted by patients for support in benefits and fit-for-work appeals and have been lobbying for more stringent assessments, particularly where disability is not immediately obvious.
Writing for The Independent, the Birmingham GP explains how one of her patients suffers daily headaches and is undergoing a gruelling regime of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in order to prolong his life.
Though his brain tumour condition is incurable and the treatment leaves him tired and with serious side effects, Dr Ali said he was found fit for work and ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) after an assessment.
In another recent case, she said one of her young patients was tragically diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease meaning they shuffle when they walk, freeze-up involuntarily and often need assistance with eating meals and dressing.
Dr Ali says despite being “significantly disabled” by the condition, the DWP said the patient was not eligible for benefits in the form of personal independence payments (PIP) – and was left feeling “humiliated” by the assessment process.
Another patient with a long-term and serious mental health condition lost his PIP benefits and attempted take his own life, but it took three appeals from her to get them reinstated, she told The Independent.
“I don’t think people should be made to feel they’re playing the system when they have a chronic health problem.
“It’s almost like they have to prove something, but it’s not a court of law. It’s a health assessment, and it should look at physical and mental health – and I just don’t think it does.”
The assessment process is a 10-minute snapshot – and she said this fails to take account of the fluctuations in, or less obvious, symptoms.
On a national scale, she said this process created more of a burden on already stretched health services and exacerbated illnesses and concern for patients.
“I am currently in the process of writing a letter about my patient with a brain tumour to appeal the decision – this will be in between my surgeries, pile of referrals and blood results, home visits and practice management tasks,” Dr Ali said.
“It seems that the current system is not working for those who need it, and NHS time and resources are being drained in trying to correct a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place.”
Across the country GPs have concerns about the number of patients coming to them for support with appeals, which often see benefits reinstated.
Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee, told The Independent. “With so many appeals succeeding it calls in to question the quality of the initial assessment.”
Laura Cockram, Parkinson’s UK head of policy and campaigns, said: “Unfortunately, we know that PIP is failing people with Parkinson’s at every turn.
“Due to an inadequate assessment process that fails to take into account how conditions like Parkinson’s actually affect people, and a lack of knowledge by assessors, people are being denied the support they desperately need.
Cameron Miller, head of policy and public affairs for The Brain Tumour Charity said: “According to our report, ‘The Price You Pay’ we know that around 80 per cent of those diagnosed have had to stop work entirely or reduce their hours.
“However, only one in four people living with a brain tumour, felt that those who assessed them for personal independence payments understood their brain tumour and 85 per cent of those who had a work capability assessment found the process very stressful. Clearly the DWP need to look at who is carrying out these assessments and ensure that they have received specific training on this condition, to ensure an effective and fair assessment.”
A DWP spokesperson said it could not comment on cases without knowing the individuals involved, but added: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support they’re entitled to. Assessments are carried out by qualified healthcare professionals who look at how someone’s disability or health condition impacts them on a day-to-day basis including their functional capability to work for ESA, rather than the condition itself.
“We no longer routinely reassess people with the most severe and lifelong health conditions or disabilities for ESA, and for PIP we are working to ensure those who are awarded the highest level of support get an award duration that is appropriate to the condition and needs arising.”