The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has called for urgent changes to be made to letters sent to GPs about when to issue fit notes because the current advice risks endangering the health of claimants. Their call has been echoed by the British Medical Association (BMA).
In a letter to the work and pensions committee, the RGCP say that since the changes to the letter to GPs:
“ . . . significant evidence has come to light about the negative impact that these changes have had in relation to patient care, leading to some patients being denied fit notes by their doctors. We are concerned that the current wording of ESA65B does not sufficiently clearly indicate that there are circumstances in which GPs may need to continue to issue fit notes for their patients. It is essential that communication with GPs is as clear as possible, to uphold the high levels of trust that exist between GPs and their patients.
As a minimum we would want to see the wording of the ESA65B letter urgently changed to its
previous wording . . .
In a separate letter sent to Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for work and pensions, the RCGP add:
“Without a fit note from their GP, claimants who are awaiting the outcome of their appeal will not be able to receive ESA. They would therefore have to seek Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance, and subsequently try and meet the work-seeking requirements of those benefits, potentially endangering their health in the process. As such the College is deeply concerned about the potential impact of this on doctors and their relationships with potentially vulnerable patients.”
Both the RCGP and the British Medical Association have denied the DWP’s claim that they agreed the changes to the letter.
The BMA say that:
“At a meeting with the DWP and RCGP a BMA representative was given sight of the ESA65B amended letter. The BMA considers that sight of this letter was for the purposes of information sharing and did not agree or otherwise sign off the content of the letter.”
Like the RGCP, the BMA want the wording of the letter changing:
“The BMA understands the concerns raised regarding the revised wording of the ESA65B and given these concerns, we consider that it would be helpful to revise the wording of the ESA65B to ensure greater clarity. We believe that DWP should consider consulting with a range of stakeholders, including the BMA, to achieve this aim.”
The DWP have told the work and pensions committee that they are updating the ESA65B with input from medical organisations and pointedly, though inaccurately add that they “will again consult the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General practitioners on the proposed revisions . . . “
No timescale is given for the changes to be put in place, however, and it may be many months before revised letters begin to be sent out.