John McArdle: GPs unaware they can flag up patients at risk

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Sick and disabled people are being subjected to enormous and avoidable suffering as a consequence of the UK 
Government’s draconian welfare reforms.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has reportedly written to Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron informing them that Scottish NHS and GPs surgeries are now facing meltdown dealing with the fallout of their welfare “reforms” that the vast majority of MSPs agree are badly failing Scotland’s people.

Over the last 12 months a succession of full Westminster debates have been held on the matter and last June the British Medical Association voted unanimously to demand that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) be scrapped with immediate effect “to be replaced by a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”

However, the pleas of our doctors, charities, civil society organisations and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum – including 121 MPs who signed House of Commons Early Day Motion 295 in support of the BMA’s position – have fallen on deaf ears and even harder hearts.

In response to last week’s Evening News report on the issue, a DWP spokeswoman stated that “GPs have said they do not want to be responsible for making decisions on people’s benefit entitlement, which is why we request the appropriate information from GPs to enable us to make those decisions”.

The truth, as the department well knows, is that the DWP almost never requests information from GPs and it remains irrefutably the case that those performing the Atos Work Capability Assessments and DWP Decision Makers continue to make complex medical risk assessments based upon grossly inadequate patient information.

The inevitable result has been the sickening, daily occurrence of Scotland’s chronically sick and/or disabled people’s lives being devastated with individuals, families and carers pushed over the edge. Such a disgraceful state of affairs cannot be permitted to continue for one day longer in a society that deigns to call itself civilised.

ESA Regulations (21013) 25 and 31 deal with flagging up a substantial risk of harm to patients if they were to be found “fit for work” or to have “limited capability for work” and placed in the DWP Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) where: “the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and, by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a 
substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited 
capability for work.”

Regrettably, it remains the case that only DWP and ATOS staff are aware of these regulations whilst GPs remain ignorant of their existence and those performing the WCA and DWP Decision Makers continue to make complex risk assessments based on grossly inadequate patient information.

Where GPs have applied the law the horrific suffering of the type reported in last week’s News has been avoided.

Contrary to suggestions by the DWP spokeswoman and DWP Minister for Work Mark Hoban, the use of these regulations by GPs is emphatically not about doctors policing the benefit system. They are about doctors discharging their ethical duty to patients. The GMC’s own publication Good Medical Practice states clearly: “a doctor must (overriding duty or principle) take prompt action if he feels that patient safety is or may be seriously compromised by inadequate . . . policies or systems.”

Failure by the BMA to urgently publicise and make known to every GP in the country the existence and lawful application of these Substantial Risk Regulations 25 and 31 without any further delay would, in the words of the doctors’ letter to the BMA 
leadership, amount to negligence.

John McArdle is a spokesman for the Black Triangle Campaign against the current disability benefit reforms