Friday, 30 August 2013

GPs charging for medical reports needed for benefit appeals

News broke this week that many GPs are either refusing to provide medical evidence letters for appeals against Work Capability Assessment (WCA) decisions or charging people up to £130 for them. This comes not long after the government admitted that these assessments had major failings.

Earlier this year it was reported that GPs in Wales were told that people requesting letters of medical evidence for WCA appeals were an "abuse of NHS resources".  Now there is evidence that some GPs who will provide such letters are charging for them. With the Citizen's Advice Bureau reporting 54 per cent more people seeking support from them regarding Employment Support Allowance (ESA), this is very worrying. All the more so when you consider that disabled people are twice as likely to be living in poverty as non disabled people, thus making them less likely to be able to afford to pay for the letters.

GP's have argued that they simply don't have the time to deal with requests for appeal letters. They experienced a 21% increase in requests between January and July alone this year. Last week a "just say no" campaign to support GPs refusing to provide such letters was launched. All of this is worrying not only in terms of making appealing WCA decisions harder, but  also in the potential it has to create tension and hostility between disabled people and their GP. This is of particular concern given disabled people are more likely to need to visit their GP on a regular basis.  

The DWP guidelines state:

“Claimants should contact Jobcentre Plus or the Appeals Service, where appropriate, if they think that further medical evidence is necessary to support their claim or appeal. They should state clearly their reasons for believing that further evidence is necessary.

If Jobcentre Plus or the Appeals Service consider that further medical evidence is necessary, they will seek it. They will be responsible for paying any fee to the doctor providing the report.”

Going by what DWP have said, people should not need to pay at all. Instead they should provide reasoning when appealing on why they believe further medical reports is needed. If these reasons are agreed, then the Appeals Service should pay. However, a parliamentary briefing note reveals that of requests from the DWP for additional information from GPs, only 50% are replied to.

It is also unclear whether people appealing a WCA decision are made aware of the willingness of Jobcentre Plus and the Appeals Service to request and pay for additional evidence from their doctors, or what the process is if their case for obtaining this information fails.

So we have a failing assessment process, with decisions repeatedly being overturned on appeal, and the access to medical evidence which may help with any appeal in some cases being costly or outright denied. Aspire believe this makes the urgency for the Work Capability Assessment to be reviewed and changed all the more important. 

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