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Flawed' benefit reforms add to patient stress and GP workload

Doctors have spoken out against the stress to patients and extra GP workload brought about by recent changes to the benefit system.

They said the Tribunals Service, Department of Work and Pensions and other organisations should stop advising patients to ask GPs for letters of support when they are appealing against decisions that were made by the benefits system.

Glasgow GP John Ip told today’s BMA local medical committees conference that current work capability assessments were ‘seriously flawed’, with nearly 40 per cent of appeals successful.

‘The tribunal service should collect medical information rather than putting the onus on to the patient,’ he argued. ‘They can write to us and allow us reasonable time to provide a properly funded medical report.’

'Bedroom tax'

Dr Ip also criticised the ‘bedroom tax’, which cuts the amount of housing benefit received if people are deemed to have a spare bedroom.

He said that more than 600,000 people were affected, with an average cut of £14 per week from their housing benefit and a five-fold increase in applications for discretionary housing payment from 5,000 last year to 25,000 this April.

Patients were being told this benefit cut could be avoided if they got a note from the doctor regarding the need for an overnight carer, he said. ‘It’s the GANFD principle — Get a Note From Your Doctor.’

But the Scottish GP argued that if patients needed an overnight carer then social workers or at least the Department of Work and Pensions should know about it.

Gwent GP Debbie Waters added that she had had distressed patients in her surgery as a result of the benefit changes and it was often patients who were most likely to win their appeals who came in.

She told the assembled doctors: ‘I think the tribunal process should stop using patients as middle men and make it clear to them that if they feel that further medical evidence is needed then the doctors will be asked to provide it.’