Ella Abraham, Policy and Campaigns Officer
From June 3rd 2019, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) began sending out a revised version of their much contended letter to GPs. This is the second time the letter has now been revised due to outrage by Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust), supporting charities, MPs, claimants, doctors and patients.
The revised letter begins with “We no longer need Statements of Fitness for Work (known as Fit Notes) for your patient as they are fit for work”
The letter then repeats this same statement and bullet points three ways in which doctors may still issue fit notes subject to their ‘clinical discretion’. This letter either assumes expert benefit knowledge or relies on the GP researching the links provided. While this new letter does give some guidance to GPs as to when they can provide fit notes we believe the letters continue to actively dissuades or stops GPs from making decisions that they should be able to make without interference from the DWP.
We continue to campaign against these letters in all their forms.
From 2017 to June 2nd 2019, the DWP sent doctors misleading letters stating that their patients do not need a “fit note” anymore because they’ve been found fit for work. This letter left severely ill and disabled claimants unable to obtain Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to which they are entitled pending appeal.
This threatened the doctor – patient relationship and put patients at risk of damaging their health further by 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 (UC) because they cannot afford to live on little to no income waiting for their appeal.
Consent on ESA50 / UC50 forms
A recent complaint by Frank Zola to the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) and a subsequent Freedom of Information Request to the DWP has resulted in the DWP having to change the way they ask for consent on their ESA50 / UC50 forms.
Why is this relevant to the campaign?
In order to claim ESA or UC, people must fill out a form known as the ESA50 / UC50 – on that form, claimants are required to tick a box which, currently, lumps together lots of different pieces of information and, if signed, gives various permissions to the DWP to contact the claimants GP.
See below how it currently stands – you’ll see there is no option to opt out of any of the bullet points and therefore do not comply with GDPR & the Data Protection Act 2018.
Importantly for this campaign, the DWP have stated that the
‘Consent wording included in the declaration sections on ESA forms is being revised and
will be removed from the declaration. The content has been reviewed by a number of internal
and external stakeholders and will be amended so applicants:
- can give or refuse consent
- understand how their health information will be used, know what will happen if they refuse consent, and are reassured that they can still claim the benefit if they do
- know how to change their mind later’
This is crucial especially for the declaration statement: “I agree to my doctor or any doctor treating me, being informed about the Secretary of State’s determination on limited capability for work, limited capability for work-related activity, or both”. As claimants will be able to OPT IN to this, and therefore stop the trigger of the ESA65B letters going to their GPs.
We believe GPs do not 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 because they have expertise and should be able to make decisions without the interference of the DWP.
Things to note
- Despite the new letters being in place, we still don’t know how many people are affected by the old letters. If your doctor has told you they have been unable to provide you with a fit note because of the ESA65B letter – please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
- While the DWP said they are in the process of updating the consent wording, we do not know when this will be. You can follow this guidance from Disabled People Against Cuts to make it clear you do not consent to the outcome of your Work Capability Assessment being sent to your GP.
Read more about the campaign here.