The DWP are still trying to cover up their failure to honour a pledge to a coroner that they would send out a reminder to staff about how to deal with claimants who were at risk of suicide. Their latest response to our Freedom of Information request claims the document we asked for has been destroyed and ignores the rest of our request.
Claimant Michael O’Sullivan committed suicide in September 2013. He had been suffering from anxiety and depression for a number of years.
Following the inquest into his death in January 2014, the coroner issued a Regulation 28 report which is designed to prevent future deaths occurring in similar circumstances.
In the report the coroner stated that:
“I found that the trigger for Mr O ’Sullivan’s suicide was his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work .”
The Coroner went on to say that:
“During the course of the inquest , the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.“
In their response to the coroner, the DWP admitted that the health professional who assessed Mr O’Sullivan had failed to follow clear guidance on dealing with claimants with suicidal ideation.
The very last words in their response were that they would “issue a reminder to staff about the guidance related to suicidal ideation that has been described in this report."
Freedom of information request
Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information request asking for:
“1 Copies of the reminders that were sent out.
“2 Any documents which show the date on which the reminders were sent out if this is not included in document 1 above
“3 Any documents which show which agencies and/or types of staff the reminders were sent out to, if this is not included in documents 1 or 2 above.”
In their initial response the DWP simply directed us to the latest edition of the Work Capability Assessment Handbook issued to health professionals.
When we challenged this, the DWP pretended to misunderstand us and issued the same answer again.
We then took the issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The DWP ignored a deadline for a response to the ICO.
Just as the ICO was about to issue an information notice to the DWP, which legally obliges them to make a response, we received a reply from the DWP which stated:
“Under our records management policy internal memos must be retained for one year and so, due to the passage of time, we do not hold the information requested. However, to be helpful I can confirm that a reminder was sent out on 2 October 2015 which stated the following:
“The current filework guidelines are available in the knowledge library. Current version is 10 and it states: “Where there is evidence of a previous suicide attempt, suicidal ideation or self-harm expressed in the ESA50/ESA50A, the HCP must request FME.”
The DWP’s response to the coroner is not dated, but it should have been sent by 11 March 2014. Clearly a memo sent out in October 2015, 18 months later, cannot be connected to the promise given to the coroner.
The DWP are trying to hide behind their records management policy.
But, the reality is that if a memo was sent there would be a document trail. After the undertaking was given to the coroner someone must have ordered the issuing of a memo, decided who to send it to and what it should contain.
The DWP have made no effort to identify any of the documents at 2) and 3) of our request.
In addition, it seems highly probable that an index of memos and their contents does still exist within the DWP even if, as they claim, they have deleted the actual documents.
We will continue with our challenge to the Information Commissioner in order to try to get to the truth.