Tuesday 25 January 2011

No Surprise

More confirmation of Hafal Members' dire experience of assessment by the Department of Work and Pensions and their agents in the form of their own report which states that the process of claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is particularly stressful for people with a mental illness. See the full story plus useful commentary from Hafal's employment specialist Short Steps Information Officer Helen Lovitt here.

The report, which focuses on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and the Work Focused Health Related Assessment (WFHRA), is based on interviews with claimants, healthcare professionals and Jobcentre Plus advisers.

It was found that the ESA50 medical form, which forms the basis for the discussions at the WCA and WFHRA, was often badly completed and, in some cases, not returned at all. This was a particular issue with people with mental illnesses. The report recommends that assistance to complete the ESA50 form should be offered to all claimants.

Many healthcare professionals also reported that, in direct contrast with people with physical impairments or disabilities, people with mental health issues tended to under-describe their conditions on the ESA50 form. This specific problem of understatement by people with a serious mental illness is one which we have been trying to get across for a long time (see this post from last July).

The report found that several claimants were not clear about the purpose of the WCA, with many believing that it would be a full medical examination. In actual fact the WCA is primarily a discussion based on the ESA50 form, about the physical and mental barriers to work which the claimant experiences.

When it came to informing claimants about the outcome of their claim, decision letters were criticised as being badly worded, with a tendency to suggest that the claimants are not really ill. The report recommended that in future, decision letters should contain details of the evidence which was considered in reaching the decision.

All this follows the previous report which I highlighted last year here.

I seriously doubt whether this giant gap in the understanding of mental illness by DWP can be dealt with by fiddling with the forms and procedures or even by staff training. Long ago Hafal wrote to the DWP Minister in the previous government about this problem suggesting that formal advocates were required to assist people with a serious mental illness in these matters. How right we were.