Revised DWP ‘fit for work’ letters sent to GPs continue to be “misleading” and threatens to create unwanted barriers between patients and doctors, a leading UK charity has said today.
From June 3rd 2019, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) began sending out a revised version of their much contended letter to GPs, after charities and others complained the information provided was “misleading” and risks the health and wellbeing of sick and disabled people.
This is the second time the letter has now been revised due to outrage by Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust), other charities, MPs, claimants, doctors and patients.
The revised DWP letter instructs GPs that: “We no longer need Statements of Fitness for Work (known as Fit Notes) for your patient as they are fit for work.”
This statement is then repeated later in the letter and it then bullet-points three ways in which doctors may still issue fit notes subject to their “clinical discretion”.
Opponents say this wording assumes that GPs have an expert knowledge of the benefits system and the controversial work capability assesssment, or relies on the GP researching the links provided.
From 2017 to June 2nd 2019, the DWP began sending doctors “misleading letters” stating that their patients do not need a “fit note” anymore because they’ve been found fit for work.
Z2K argues that this letter left severely ill and disabled claimants unable to obtain Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to which they are entitled pending appeal.
It also threatened the doctor – patient relationship and put patients at risk of damaging their health further and leaving them in serious financial difficulties.
During a 13 month period, the letter was sent to over 146,500 GPs, leaving thousands vulnerable to having their benefits taken away or being forced onto Universal Credit because they cannot afford to live on little to no income waiting for their appeal.
Raji Hunjan, CEO of Z2K said: “The revised letters continue to be actively misleading and ultimately lead to people being denied benefits that they are entitled to.
“The letters actively dissuades or stops GPs from making decisions that they should be able to make without interference from the DWP.
“Why do GPs need to know the DWP have declared the person fit for work, and then be told that they can still provide fit notes in some circumstances?”
He added: “We are really disappointed with this outcome. Although the revised letter is a little less confusing, the DWP should have consulted with specialist advice charities like ours and directly with the disabled and ill people that they are affecting.
“Simply withdrawing these letters altogether would prevent the harm we’ve seen from happening again and the 117,000 people who signed our petition agree with us.”