Doctors call for overhaul of sickness benefit assessment system

Work Capability Assessment 'harms vulnerable patients'

The system being used to assess people who want to claim Employment and Support Allowance should be scrapped because of the harm it does to vulnerable people, Britain’s largest doctors’ representative group has said.

Family doctors at the British Medical Association’s annual GP conference today called for an end to the Work Capability Assessment and said it should be replaced with a “more vigorous and safe” process.

The new system was introduced by the government in 2008 as part of wide-ranging welfare reforms. However, a speaker at today's conference said that people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work, people with mental health problems have complained their condition is not taken seriously and people with complex illnesses say that the “tick-box” system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems.

Dr Andrew Holden, a GP from Petersfield in Hampshire, told the conference that the computer-based system was unable to differentiate between people who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit and those who don’t.

He said: “The computer-based assessments are carried out by a healthcare professional but one not necessarily trained in the field of the patient’s disability, which is particularly important when it comes to mental health issues.”

Conference delegates passed a motion which said that the Work Capability Assessment "should end with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society".

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