NHS backs GP over ‘inflammatory’ comments on ‘fitness for work’


theweeksubThe NHS is refusing to take any action over a GP who made “inflammatory” comments about claimants of incapacity benefits in his national magazine column.

Dr Phil Peverley, who works at a practice in Sunderland, made the comments in Pulse, the weekly magazine for GPs.

He told his readers that Atos Healthcare – the firm which carries out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government – “nearly always gets it right”, apparently ignoring the huge number of successful appeals against benefit decisions made as a result of Atos recommendations.

Peverley complained that “entire surgeries could be filled with the disgruntled unworking well, full of indignation at being considered reasonably healthy”, and that a “proportion of punters are hell bent on trying to prove they’re really ill, and need us to confirm it”.

He said he had even considered putting up a picture of the renowned disabled scientist Professor Stephen Hawking in his surgery, with a caption that says: “This bloke is not on the sick.”

The column led to news stories in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, both citing his remark about Hawking.

There was also a stream of supportive comments from GP readers of Pulse, with one doctor claiming that he was “going to get a photo of Prof Hawking up on the wall as you suggest”.

Another said: “Atos gets it right nearly 100 per cent of the time, personally I would like to shake them by the hand and say job well done. The fact is everyone can work no matter what their illness is.”

The column, and the follow-ups by the Mail and Telegraph, led to a joint statement from the user-led campaign groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle, who said Peverley’s “inflammatory” column had been reported to the General Medical Council (GMC).

They said the column was “an insult to all those that suffer the misery and anxiety of Atos within the regime designed to remove support from disabled people” and to those who have died “shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’”.

They pointed out that the British Medical Association voted last year to demand that the work capability assessment be ended with “immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm”.

And they said the comparison with Hawking was “beyond bizarre”, as he has “the funds to ensure a network of PA support, home adaptations and technical aids – something far out of the reach of the majority of disabled people – where even a basic level of support is becoming increasingly unlikely in the current slash and burn climate”.

A spokeswoman for NHS England (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear) said: “Dr Peverley has his individual views which he expresses clearly in the column.

“GPs are accountable to the GMC for their professional conduct and, if anyone has any concerns relating to this, the GMC can be approached direct for further advice.

“NHS England, through the local area team, would only get involved if it was proven that Dr Peverley’s views were affecting his ability to provide an appropriate clinical service for the NHS.”

The magazine also stood by Peverley, describing him as “one of Pulse’s most valued, multiple award-winning columnists”.

Editor Steve Nowottny said: “His monthly column does not necessarily speak for Pulse, or the majority of GPs, but represents his own personal perspective as a hard-working, coalface GP seeing patients day in and day out.”

He said the column had tackled an “important and difficult question around the role GPs should play, if at all, in sickness certification” and had “clearly provoked an intense and healthy debate”.

He stressed that it was only the latest in a series of articles Pulse had run on the impact of benefits assessments on GPs and patients.

Nowottny pointed to other opinion articles, for example a piece by Dr Martin Brunet  and another by Dr Graham Kramer, which had taken “a very different stance”.

He added: “We aim to fully represent the broad spectrum of opinion within the profession, and sickness certification is clearly an area which requires further debate.”

A GMC spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether they had received any complaints about Peverley, and added: “We are not able to confirm if there are any investigations ongoing. We do have a duty of confidentiality.”

A spokesman for Professor Hawking at the University of Cambridge said: “Professor Hawking does not wish to comment thank you.”

8 August 2013