The government has admitted it is discussing with GPs how to introduce a way for them to report cases in which the controversial “fitness for work” test has caused serious harm to their patients.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) declined to comment two weeks ago when Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a GP whose patient tried to kill himself after a “fitness for work” test was urging the government to act.
Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, who works in Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh, said he believed many other GPs had patients who had experienced similar levels of mental distress as a result of being put through the work capability assessment (WCA).
He said that introducing a reporting mechanism – in which GPs could pass details to the DWP – was the only way to build up a picture of the true impact of the WCA on disabled people.
This week the DWP finally disclosed that it has discussed the issue with the British Medical Association (BMA).
A DWP spokesman told DNS: “Officials met the BMA recently and we are aware some GPs would like a feedback mechanism. We will continue to work with them.”
A BMA spokesman said doctors told the DWP at the meeting that the WCA was “fundamentally flawed” but that they were open to “anything that improves where we are at the moment”.
He said some GPs had made it clear that they would like a way to provide feedback to the DWP, an idea which was discussed during the meeting.
He added: “We are open to it as a suggestion but we need more information about how it would work. We are now waiting for the DWP to get back to us with further information.”
Dr Carty said he believed that a reporting mechanism should be rolled out across GP practices, possibly through an online route to senior DWP medical advisers.
He said: “At the moment, significant adverse outcomes affecting patients, which are preventable, are happening on an almost weekly basis and I don’t have a reporting mechanism.
“While the BMA and DWP remain in discussions, patients are still at risk of preventable harm.”
Dr Carty has joined disabled activists in pointing to links between the WCA and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other deaths among those being assessed, but the DWP has until this week refused to acknowledge the issue publicly.
Two weeks ago, GPs from across Britain voted unanimously at their annual conference in Liverpool to call for the test to be scrapped and replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.