Doctors’ union is ‘complicit’ in continuing ‘fitness for work’ deaths


newslatestDisabled activists have accused the doctors’ union of being “complicit” in deaths connected to the work capability assessment (WCA), after a report concluded that a Scottish woman probably killed herself as a result of being found “fit for work”.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland this week published a report into the death of Ms DE, who had a long-standing mental health condition.

She killed herself in December 2011, less than three weeks after learning that she had been found fit for work, following a work capability assessment (WCA). She was told that her benefits would be slashed.

Neither her GP nor her psychiatrist, who had both been treating her for 20 years, had been asked to comment on her mental health by the assessor or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Now the user-led grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, which has campaigned to scrap the WCA, is calling leaders of the British Medical Association (BMA) to account for its failure to prevent future such tragedies.

Black Triangle was formed after the 2010 suicide of the Scottish poet Paul Reekie, in similar circumstances to Ms DE. He had also just been told that his incapacity benefit – as well as his housing benefit – was being stopped.

Black Triangle is furious that the BMA is still refusing to inform every GP in the country about two vital regulations which they believe could avoid more deaths like that of Ms DE.

The regulations state that a claimant should not be found fit for work (regulation 29), or placed in the employment and support allowance (ESA) work-related activity group (regulation 35), if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their “mental or physical health”.

But the BMA has refused to contact GPs about the regulations, even though doctors at its annual representative meeting were almost unanimous in voting two years ago for the organisation to “demand” that the WCA should end completely.

John McArdle, a co-founder of the user-led grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, said the cases of Ms DE and Mark Wood – who starved to death after he was found ‘fit for work’ and had his benefits cut – were just “the tip of the iceberg”.

He accused the BMA of being “complicit” in similar deaths of disabled people, because of its refusal to act over the regulations.

McArdle said that members of the Deprivation Interest Group – a group of GPs and primary healthcare workers in the Scottish Lothians – along with other surgeries across Lothian and in Glasgow, were using the regulations and were “saving lives”.

He said: “It is now incumbent on the BMA… to act unilaterally in order to prevent these barbaric tragedies from becoming a daily occurrence.

“Black Triangle has consistently argued that it is now time for the BMA to step up to the plate and take unilateral action by informing all 55,000 GPs in the UK of the existence and appropriate application of the substantial risk regulations, so that where in the clinical judgement of the doctor they believe that there would be a risk to their patient’s safety, they can sign a simple declaration and forward it to DWP decision-makers.”

A BMA spokeswoman said: “We do not believe that these tragic deaths are the result of BMA action and are looking at how to take things forward.”

27 March 2014