GPs not ‘supporting’ Atos disabled patients

GPs will be seen as “lacking compassion” over their refusal to provide support letters for disabled patients who face losing benefits as a result of the overhaul of the welfare system, MSPs warned today.

Doctors in Glasgow are now reconsidering the controversial move after an outcry from vulnerable groups which have been hit by measures like the bedroom tax.

The leader of Scotland’s GPs, Dr Alan McDevitt, told Holyrood’s health committee today they are being overhwelmed by additional work and warned that the situation will damage wider patient care.

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GPs must fill out initial forms from Atos, the firm helping implement the changes like the new universal benefit, which set out the fitness of claimants to work. The row has erupted over additional letters being sought by vulnerable people if they have been ruled fit to work, but argue this is unfair. Doctors say they don’t have the resources to do this.

But Tressa Burke, a director and trustee with Inclusion Scotland, slammed the approach from doctors.

“The only thing between disabled people and far greater harm, either through destitution through removal of benefits or serious deterioration in their mental or physical health through being forced to work when they’re not fit to do so, is a letter from their GP,” she told the committee.

“That this is being refused is wrong - professionally, legally and morally.”

She added: “It seems like a really unfair and unjust punishment that the solution is to just not to provide the evidence.

“Glasgow disabled people are losing out in a devastatuing way with potential consequences for their income, their participation in society and their helath and well-being.”

Ms Burke said the only way that disabled people can challenge decisions against them is for a doctor to provide a letter.

She added: “This is not the right response and we ask that the decision be reversed.

“This will make the situation much, much worse.”

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Nationalist Glasgow MSP Bob Doris said posters had been appearing in recent weeks in surgeries in the city urging patients not to even request extra support letters.

“These posters are basically saying don’t ask in the first place,” Mr Doris said.

“I have a fundamental concern with that. My constituents will see it as a lack of compassion from some GPs and its a lack of compassion from the very people in their community that they trust the most.

“That seeming lack of passion will be corrosive and erode trust in the people who are the most important people in some of the most deprived communities to help vulnerable people.”

Mr Doris said this is how it will be interpreted among vulnerable groups, but was not his opinion.

Mr McDevitt said the posters have now been removed in response to “negative feedback” to the local medical committee in Glasgow which was behind them.

“They’re reconsidering whether that’s the right response,” he added.

“The problem still remains should everyone get an additional report or should only some people when I decide to grant them that favour.”