Fit-for-work tests linked to relapses in mental health

2 December 2015

A consultant from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that “fit for work” tests, which assess an individual’s eligibility for disability benefit, have caused relapses in patients with serious mental health conditions.

Dr Jed Boardman who works for the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, says the work capability assessment (WCA) discriminates against those with mental health issues and urges the process to be revamped.

He told the Guardian:

“People with severe long-term problems get very distressed about being assessed, probably because mistakes are made, because the process isn’t perfect, because they don’t feel they are being listened to in their interviews.”

“You do see people relapsing as a consequence of getting distressed.”

His comments stem from a study published last week by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which showed a correlation between assessments under the WCA and aggravation to mental health. However the cause itself was not identified.

Boardman’s concerns nonetheless were echoed by psychologists and benefit advisers who with claimants, and hold anecdotal evidence that WCAs cause additional distress to those with mental health problems.

Numerous reviews of the WCA, including a select committee review in 2014, have also expressed concern over the assessment’s effects on patients, with one independent review most recently revealing that almost 50% of those assessed under the WCA have a mental health problem as a primary condition.

The Department for Work and Pensions has described the study as “misleading” as no evidence has shown the effects of WCA on mental health patients. A statement from a DWP representative said:

“The health professionals who carry out work capability assessments are highly trained to assess people with mental health conditions.

“We have worked closely with medical experts and charities to make significant improvements to the WCA process and the percentage of people with mental health conditions who get the highest level of support has more than tripled since 2010.”

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