14 June 2010

An email leaked to Benefits and Work by a Jobcentre Plus employee shows that the DWP are in a panic about whether decisions they are making are legal, because GPs are failing to comply with the new fit note regime.

The fit note replaced the Med3 sick note and other medical certificates from 6th April 2010. It allows a GP to say that their patient is either not fit for work or is fit for work taking into account the GP’s advice – where the advice is about changes to duties, workplace adaptations, altered hours or other issues which may allow the patient to safely return to work.

There is then a space for comments about the functional effects of the condition and boxes to state how long the advice applies for.

The leaked email, which has the subject line ‘Problems with fit notes’ and is dated 17 May, was sent to Benefits and Work by an anonymous civil servant who explained that:

“I am sending you this to give further evidence of the complete shambles that is ESA and now the ‘fit note’.”

The confidential email, sent by a regional ESA/IB manager to jobcentre plus staff, reveals problems with the fit note that have been kept from the press and the public.  It explains  that:

“You will already be aware that significant volumes of the new Fit note are not being completed.

“The national performance team (NPT) held a telekit this morning to discuss the issue and it is apparent that GP’s are not compliant with the new process.  This is a National problem and there are several technical issues that have now to be considered and there isn’t a definitive stance for local sites to take yet.”

The email goes on to say that:

“To get specific messages out to the GP about correct completion takes time and there may be some issues about getting some things clarified given change of government etc. etc.

“Until we do get a steer about what to do we are stuck!!!

“[Name removed by Benefits and Work] is presently liaising with legal group to try and see how incompleted (sic) notes impact on any decision making we do and has asked for a swift turnaround.”

It is not clear from the email exactly how GPs are failing to comply with the new regime.  Given the extremely simple nature of the fit note and the fact that a detailed guidance booklet has been issued to all GPs, it’s hard to see how doctors could be accidentally failing to complete the form correctly in such large numbers. 

GP’s non-compliance may be much more about their resentment at being asked to do the job of occupational health experts and suggest reasonable adjustments in relation to their patients employment conditions.  This may particularly be the case if the GP knows very little about the nature of that employment.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that the ‘non compliance’ is serious enough to throw into doubt the legality of decisions being made by the DWP about eligibility for benefits.

Benefits and Work has now made a freedom of information request for any documents from the DWP legal group in relation to problems with improperly completed fit notes.

Meanwhile, if our civil service mole is correct, there is a great deal of staff disaffection as well as technical bodge-ups within Jobcentre Plus in relation to ESA. ‘Deep Throat’, as she or he signs themselves, tells us

“This obscene and inhuman ‘benefit’ is hated by all, including over-worked, under-staffed and poorly paid civil servants.

“The ESA CAM [customer account management] software is crap and you have to write information on paper to then re-enter into the software later in the claim process, how efficient is that!?”

“They are also now re-assessing all Incap claims by 2014 under WCA conditions, this will be a major issue with CAM, but they don’t acknowledge that of course.”

Our mole tells us that they are afraid of getting the sack if they are caught sending us information, but adds ‘mind you at least I could then sleep nights’.

If only coalition ministers who helped create this viciously unfair system felt the same way.


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