A GP survey commissioned by the charity Rethink Mental Illness showed that 84% of GPs have patients who have developed mental health problems as a result of either being assessed, or from fear of being assessed, under the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA).
GPs are providing increased support to patients because of the fear and anxiety caused by the test. According to the GPs polled in the survey the WCA has resulted in patients’ self- harming and having suicidal thoughts. A total of 6% of GPs have patients who have either attempted or committed suicide after having the assessment or through fear of being assessed.
Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, referred to the statistics as “shocking” and said “These figures demonstrate how urgent it is that the government overhauls the test. It is putting a strain on individuals, families and the NHS. The human and economic costs are too great for the government to continue with it. We urge the government to halt the system now - it could be the difference between life and death for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said “The RCGP supports and works with Rethink Mental Illness because it is championing the rights of people who have a mental illness... GPs are seeing an increasing number of patients with mental health issues and stress-related illness. It’s important that mental health has parity with physical health issues in the way that patients are regarded and looked after in society.”
The survey also reveals GPs concerns that Jobcentre Plus and Athos Healthcare do not make sufficient use of knowledge about claimants’ mental illness during the WCA process, and shows that 67% of GPs think healthcare professionals should seek evidence directly from them when vulnerable claimants who are unable to gather evidence themselves are involved.