Disabled activists have hailed as a major victory a decision by Scottish GPs to call on the government to abandon its controversial “fitness for work” tests.
Doctors at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual Scottish conference of GPs voted for a motion that called for the “inadequate, computer-based assessments” to be abandoned in favour of a “rigorous and safe” system that does not cause “avoidable harm” to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.
The motion said the work capability assessment (WCA), the test introduced by the Labour government in 2008 to assess people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, has “little regard to the nature or complexity” of disabled people’s needs.
The Scottish-based campaign group Black Triangle played a key role in having the motion tabled at last week’s conference.
There are hopes that a similar motion could now be proposed at the UK national conference – which will include GPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland – to be held in May in Liverpool.
Dr Stephen Carty, an Edinburgh GP and Black Triangle member, said the Scottish conference’s support sent “a ray of hope” to many sick and disabled people.
He said the WCA was “not an effective or safe method of determining ‘fitness to work’”, and he called on the General Medical Council (GMC) to speak out on the issue.
He said: “All doctors are duty bound by the General Medical Council to report any system or process that may be harmful to patients. The WCA is a harmful process. Scottish GPs have spoken: the GMC cannot remain silent on this matter any longer.”
BMA Scotland said it did not keep a record of how many of the 100 or so doctors who attended the conference had voted for the motion.
But Dr Dean Marshall, who chairs the BMA’s Scottish general practitioners committee, said the BMA agreed with the need for welfare reform and to “provide more opportunities for those people who are able to work”.
But he said patients were “very concerned and confused with regards to these assessments. Many are in fear of how they will cope with the removal of, or cuts to, their benefits.
“Evidence appears to suggest that people with serious health conditions are frequently declared fit for work.”
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, called for the assessments to be halted while the GMC carried out a “thorough investigation”.
He said: “The scandal of these assessments has gone on far too long. As a grassroots disabled people’s organisation we are over the moon that Scotland’s GPs have spoken out so clearly and unequivocally in their condemnation.
“Our GPs recognise the severe and avoidable damage that is being done to sick and disabled people through this brutal, draconian and profoundly unjust testing regime as they see it every single day.”
The GMC declined to comment.
28 March 2012