25 November 2011
At a press conference yesterday Professor Malcolm Harrington published his Second Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the test used to assess eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance. His ongoing task is to assess the fairness and effectiveness of the whole process.
Key points that he made in the Review include:
- all of the year one recommendations have been, or are being implemented
- the WCA has, Professor Harrington says, "noticeably changed for the better"
It also included a recommendation to work on more specific issues which the first Review did not have time to cover in detail, including:
- better communications and information sharing between decision makers and personal advisers
- increasing and improving transparency of the WCA
- ensuring quality decisions are made (including ensuring that guidance for decision makers and healthcare professionals is up-to-date and clinically sound)
- monitoring the impact of recommendations from the independent reviews.
There are 23 detailed recommendations listed in the report. These include changes to descriptors but do not include any recommendation about fluctuating conditions.
In response to the Review, Sir Peter Spencer, Chief Executive, Action for M.E. said:
"Whilst I acknowledge that it will take time for improvements to take effect throughout the UK, I am disappointed that there is no specific recommendation in the Review to improve the assessment procedure for people with fluctuating conditions such as M.E. This is despite Harrington passing on suggested changes made concerning fluctuating conditions to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP claims it has ‘not yet had time to consider’ these changes.
"However, if only recommendations included are those that have already been approved by the DWP, it raises a question as to whether the Review is as independent as it appears to be.
"The Government cannot in all conscience continue to put people through this very stressful assessment process which is so clearly unfit for purpose. Senior consultants have provided compelling evidence to the DWP of the harm this does to vulnerable patients. Once again Action for M.E. calls on the Government to suspend Work Capability Assessments for those with fluctuating conditions until the DWP has established criteria that are demonstrably fair.
"This report paints a picture of improvement in many areas but unfortunately these have yet to benefit people with M.E. We continue to receive feedback about inaccurate medical reports, rushed assessments and claimants being wrongly told that their condition is psychosomatic."
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