Britain’s doctors have voted to “demand” an end to the government’s controversial “fitness for work” tests, and to work with disability charities to campaign for it to be scrapped.
The vote came today at the British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual representative meeting.
It followed a vote last month at the BMA’s annual conference for GPs, which called for the work capability assessment (WCA) to “end with immediate effect”.
But today’s motion was even stronger than the one debated by GPs, as it called on the BMA to “demand” that the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – should end immediately.
Doctors want the WCA replaced with “a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to patients.
The motion said the computer-based assessments “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons”.
Today’s meeting also called on the BMA to work with “disability groups and political parties” to change WCA policy, another addition to the motion approved by GPs last month.
London GP Louise Irvine, who proposed the motion, said the test had left many patients “in a state of high distress” with “thousands of long-term sick patients wrongly characterised as fit for work”.
She said the implementation of the WCA, introduced by the Labour government in 2008, had been “disastrous”, while the test was “simply not capable of assessing ability to work in any meaningful way”.
She criticised the way the “clunky, insensitive” system had led to the “McDonald’s-isation” of doctors who carry out the assessments on behalf of the company Atos Healthcare.
David Snashall, a London consultant in occupational medicine, opposed the motion and pointed to the “objective” process he said was in place to make the necessary improvements to the WCA.
He said any blame should be attached to those healthcare professionals who apply the tests, rather than the computer-based assessment itself.
The assessment has caused mounting anger among disabled activists and benefits claimants since its introduction.
John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, from which the original motion originated, said they were “absolutely delighted” with the BMA vote.
He said that both the coalition and the previous Labour government had been “complicit in the continued operation of this barbaric assessment regime” which had “led to the avoidable deaths of dozens of disabled people” and “caused enormous harm and misery to hundreds of thousands more”.
He said the BMA should now call for a full boycott of the WCA.
McArdle added: “Our doctors have shown the world where their true priorities lie – and that is with the interests of the patients and the NHS above and beyond everything else.”
The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment on the vote.
A BMA spokeswoman confirmed after the vote that it was now BMA policy to demand that the WCA be scrapped, although it was too early to say how this policy would be carried out.
She said she could not yet comment on the demand for a boycott.
28 June 2012