GP vote set to pressure government over ‘fitness for work’ tests


GPs across Britain look set to call on the government to abandon its much-criticised “fitness for work” tests, giving a huge boost to disabled activists who have fought for them to be scrapped.

The work capability assessment (WCA), which tests disabled people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, has been the subject of huge controversy since its introduction in 2008 by the Labour government.

The tests are carried out by healthcare professionals – including doctors – working for Atos Healthcare, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But GPs are set to vote at their annual conference in Liverpool next week on a motion that calls on the government to scrap the tests.

They will be asked to agree that the “inadequate computer-based assessments” have “little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons”, and should end “with immediate effect” and be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to disabled people.

Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the Scottish-based campaign group Black Triangle, who tabled the motion at the conference, said he hoped a vote in favour would “apply pressure on the government”.

He said: “I want the WCA in its present form to end with immediate effect. There are not sufficient safeguards in the present system to prevent avoidable harm [to disabled claimants].”

Dr Carty, a GP in Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh, tabled an identical motion at the British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual conference of Scottish GPs in March, where it was overwhelmingly approved.

If the motion is passed next week, it will become policy of the BMA’s GP committee, which negotiates with the government on behalf of GPs and would be expected to push for the WCA to be scrapped.

Dr Carty said he hoped the committee would “negotiate in the hardest terms” with the DWP over the WCA.

The motion is also set to be debated at the BMA’s annual conference for all doctors, to be held next month. If it was approved at that meeting, the motion would become BMA-wide policy.

A DWP spokesman said: “We clearly don’t agree that the WCA should be scrapped.

“The WCA was developed in close consultation with experts and disability organisations and we are continually working to make sure it is fair and effective.

“That is why we are implementing recommendations made by our independent reviewer, Professor Malcolm Harrington, and want to keep improving the WCA.”

He said the WCA was “an important part of reforming incapacity benefits, a system which was widely accepted as being in need of reform”.

17 May 2012