We asked our members for their experiences and top tips for collecting medical evidence.
Many thanks to everyone who got back to us.
We’ll be updating our PIP, ESA/UC and DLA guides to take account of some of your suggestions and we’ve also published some of the many useful comments below. But before we get to that, there’s one thing it’s really important to stress:
You don’t have to have medical evidence
Some people believe that without supporting medical evidence you have no hope of a successful claim for, say PIP.
This absolutely isn’t the case. Medical evidence can be very useful but many, probably most, claims succeed without specific, detailed medical evidence.
So don’t delay, or worse still give up on, a claim just because you don’t have supporting medical evidence.
Is it worth paying for evidence?
Whilst you have a right to a free copy of your medical records, as we explain below, a great many health professionals will refuse to write a bespoke letter relating to your benefits claim. Instead they are likely to say that the DWP will contact them if evidence is needed.
In fact, the DWP rarely do this, preferring to rely on the evidence of their own assessors.
So, one alternative is to offer to pay for a letter of support from your GP or other health professional.
In the end, whether or not to do this has to be an individual decision. But unless you know for sure that the evidence is going to be detailed and precisely address the issues that your claim rests upon, then it’s definitely a gamble.
As one reader, told us:
“I did get a letter from my GP about 4 years ago and it cost me £220 and it was rubbish.”
But other readers take a different view, especially when they reach the appeal stage.
“To gain evidence I borrowed £250 for a private psychiatrist assessment. I did win my appeal.”
“On numerous occasions I have had to pay GPs for a letter supporting my PIP/ESA claims/reassessment. Plus I've had to pay for private consultants to provide evidence. This evidence was critical in helping me win appeals against the DWP.”
In fact, if the evidence is about the difficulties you have with activities, then non-medical support workers may be able to provide very useful, free evidence, as the claimant above added:
“I have also supplied statements by support workers on how my disability affects my daily life. Those letters were free and provided important evidence to support my case.”
If you have a relative or friend who helps you with activities, a letter of support from them is entirely admissible as evidence and can be very persuasive, especially at an appeal tribunal.
So, unless you have the funds to spare and are sure of the evidence you are going to get, think very carefully before spending hundreds of pounds on medical evidence.
Your right to your medical records
Everyone has the right to a copy of their medical records, free of charge as this reader demonstrates:
“I requested my medical records from GP. Got everything ever written about me the surgery copied everything and gave it to me free of charge.”
One reader even got copies of MRI scans on a CD.
“Because I have Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (DCM), which is incurable & progressive, I requested my neurosurgery MRI scans, CT scans & X-rays to demonstrate how my spine is degenerating - a picture is worth a thousand words. It used to cost £10 for a password protected CD but now that too is free of charge under the act.”
These records can be very useful for proving, diagnoses, medication, treatment and tests.
There’s detailed information about how to get copies of medical records on the NHS website:
However, there can also be a very large number of pages to work through trying to find the most useful items.
For this reason a lot of claimants simply request a copy of their summary care records. Your summary care record is a short summary of your GP medical records. It is likely to include details of medication, allergies, medical history and care plan information.
As one reader told us:
“I too would agree with summary care records as I used these during a tribunal and as evidence in getting my claim awarded .As previously stated long delays are happening everywhere , this record has all GP & letters from hospital available to print.”
To get copies of your medical records, you may need to make a Subject Access Request to the GP, hospital or other healthcare provider.
Most healthcare trusts have a form you can download and complete to make an application. As one poster in our forum explained, you should be able to find this by doing a web search using the term “Application for access to health records” plus the name of the healthcare provider who holds the records you want, e.g. ‘Dorset HealthCare’
Alternatively, there are various apps which may allow you to access your health records.
If you have an NHS account you can log into this to get access to some of your records.
There are also other non-NHS apps which we cover further on in this article.
Some people refused their rights
Even though you have a legal right to a copy of your medical records, we heard from people who had faced refusal or unlawful delays from healthcare providers. Readers told us:
“I have found that quite a few surgeries will give clients the runaround when they try to assert their GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] rights to their medical records and will delay far past the 40 day limit for producing them.”
“I’ve begged for help but been told that it’s a regional ban on providing supporting letters or documents. I dread my next review as I will have no new evidence.”
“I am in the middle of my PIP review. I filled in the form to request my medical records from my GP but ended with passwords for the my GP app. This was a waste of time as it has hardly anything on it. When I rang my GP and someone from admin told me that the DWP would send them a form for the information. When I spoke to the DWP about sending this form to the GP they told me that it was up to those who do the assessment. “
If you are faced with unreasonable delays in getting copies of your medical records, don’t hesitate to use your healthcare provider’s complaints procedure. But equally don’t risk missing a DWP deadline because the records aren’t available.
Prepare well in advance
Knowing how difficult obtaining medical evidence can be, a number of readers recommended preparing well in advance by having an ongoing system for compiling evidence.
“Getting useful evidence is best done by collecting copies of any tests, written diagnoses or therapy reports as you go along. It easier this way. Take your time and sort out what is helpful before you are faced with upcoming assessments. The assessment process is time sensitive and can panic and stress you.”
“My top tip is to keep your own copy on a dedicated file of EVERYTHING related to your disability-operations, consultant's letters and reports, medication prescriptions, etc. These days it is almost impossible to get any intervention, apart from basic records, from your GP. Do NOT rely on DWP obtaining evidence, ensure you have done it yourself and very thoroughly too.”
“I tick the box on my medical appointment to get a copy of the report sent to my G.P. this ensures that I get a copy of the latest consultation which adds extra evidence to my claims.”
As well as the NHS App mentioned above, there are, non-NHS providers such as Patient Knows Best which can give you access to the NHS App records and provide other services as well. Opinions vary about such providers, so please research and make sure they are suitable for you before signing up.
There are also condition specific apps such as MyLongCovid.org.uk and Jointfully Osteoarthritis which can help you identify and keep a record of the symptoms of your condition. These could be useful in helping you to explain which symptoms affect your ability to carry out specific activities and how much of the time you are affected.
Some readers use pain tracker apps such as My Pain Diary for the same purpose.
There are also mental health apps which include mood and thought diaries and habit trackers. Mind in Brighton and Hove have compiled a list of some of mental health apps that they consider most useful.
As with pain tracker apps, these may prove to be helpful in compiling and organizing evidence about the way your condition affects your everyday activities.
One reader told us:
“I use MindDoc to keep track of my mental health symptoms and have done for several years. They provide reports every 2 weeks on your mental wellbeing and how well you fit medical criteria for depression. I provided about 20 of these reports when I first applied for PIP and my full report noted "...extensive evidence of severe mental health issues has been provided." - the only evidence I provided was those reports.”
Detailed, accurate, consistent
Detailed, accurate and consistent evidence which closely addresses the qualifying criteria for an award is what counts, whatever the benefit you are claiming. The main source of that evidence that you have control of is the claim or renewal form that you complete. Step-by-step guides, like ours, to completing claim forms can help you make sure that you give the best possible account of how your condition affects your activities.
Your own account can be supplemented by additional evidence, from friends, relatives, carers or professionals involved in your care.
Medical evidence is just one such type of supporting evidence, and often it isn’t the most valuable, so don’t be despondent if it isn’t available to you. In the current crisis overwhelming the health service, you are far from alone.