Tuesday 4th September – More than eight out of ten GPs say they have patients who have developed mental health problems due to a controversial benefits test, according to new polling released today by the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
Over 1,000 GPs were asked for their views on the impact of the Work Capability Assessment on the mental health of their patients. The test is being used by the Government to determine eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced incapacity benefits in 2008. Around 1.5 million people are currently being re-assessed for ESA through the Work Capability Assessment, which is the subject of a Parliamentary debate taking place today.
The polling, commissioned by Rethink Mental Illness, reveals that more than one in five (21%) GPs have patients who have had suicidal thoughts as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment, while three quarters say that patients who have been negatively affected by the test have needed increased support from them.
Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “These shocking statistics really show that the Work Capability Assessment is pushing some of the most unwell and vulnerable people in our society to the brink. Many people who have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder say that their condition has been made even worse as a result of the stress caused by the test. It’s the number one concern for our members, and our staff have been inundated with calls from people who are extremely worried about the impact it is having on their mental health.”
“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.”
Over 61% of GPs said assessors do not make enough use of their knowledge of the mental health of their patients. Paul Jenkins said: “This highlights one of the most serious problems with the Work Capability Assessment. People undergoing the test are expected to gather their own medical evidence to prove that they are unfit for work, which can be an almost impossible task if you are dealing with symptoms like hearing voices, having delusions or being incapacitated by depression.
“This puts the most vulnerable people with severe mental illness at a serious disadvantage. It means that GPs’ knowledge of their patients’ mental health often goes unconsidered when claims are assessed”.
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. We live in a stressful society and 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."
Ursula Sinclair, 42, from Gloucester, has depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Just days after going through the Work Capability Assessment, she attempted to take her own life. Ursula says: “I was devastated when I was initially told that I didn’t qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because I know that I’m not fit to work at all. I became extremely distressed, and that this was one of the reasons I took an overdose a few days later.
“We appealed and my ESA was reinstated. However, we now need to go to a tribunal to make the case for me to keep getting ESA in the long term. These past few months have been nerve wracking to say the least, and I’m really worried about what will happen in the future.”
Key findings from the polling:
- 84% of GPs say they have patients who have presented with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety or depression as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment
- 21% of GPs say they have patients who have had suicidal thoughts as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment
- 14% of GPs have patients who self-harmed as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment
- 6% of GPs have patients who have attempted or committed suicide as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment
- 75% of GPs said that patients who are negatively affected by undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, need increased support from their GP
- 61% of GPs say that JobCentre Plus (via Atos Healthcare) does not makes enough use of their knowledge of the mental health of your patients during the Work Capability Assessment process
- 67% of GPs think that the assessors should seek information from GPs directly for those patients with mental health problems who are too unwell or vulnerable to arrange this themselves
Please see attached case studies of people affected by mental illness who are undergoing the Work Capability Assessment.
For more information, please contact Brian Semple, Media Relations Officer for Rethink Mental Illness firstname.lastname@example.org 0207 840 3043. For out of hours enquiries, call 0207 840 3138.
Notes to editors
The survey was carried out by Vitaris Research Consultancy, part of the ICM Research Group.
Rethink Mental Illness is a charity that believes a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness.
For 40 years we have brought people together to support each other. We run services and support groups that change people’s lives and challenge attitudes about mental illness.
We directly support almost 60,000 people every year across England to get through crises, to live independently and to realise they are not alone.
We give information and advice to 500,000 more and we change policy for millions.
For more information go to www.rethink.org