Benefit changes lead to surge in GP workload

GP leaders have warned that stricter benefit rules have led to a surge in workload, with patients asking practices to support appeals against funding cuts.

Dr Richard Vautrey: practices are already overstretched (photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Dr Richard Vautrey: practices are already overstretched (photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

LMCs across the UK are reporting a ‘significant increase in workload’ after benefit reforms took effect this month. Changes to the disability living allowance and the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ in particular have been highlighted.

Glasgow LMC and Birmingham LMC, among others, have produced posters and letters informing patients not to ask GPs to support their appeals.

The poster produced by Birmingham LMC reads: ‘GPs provide medical care to their patients and are not in a position to administer nor to police the benefits system. It is not appropriate for the GP to be asked for letters of support or letters to confirm housing or care needs.'

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the government needs to invest ‘properly’ in independent occupational health assessments as part of the benefit changes.

He said: ‘GPs are seeing an increase in patients asking for letters to support a variety of benefit appeals. This is an unnecessary additional workload on already overstretched practices and GPs shouldn't have to pick up the pieces created by the government's failure to invest properly in independent health assessments as part of the benefit changes.’

Dr Vautrey said it was up to individual practices if they refused to provide support but he said they needed to have a ‘consistent approach’ for all patients. Whether to charge patients was also a practice decision, he said.

‘Practices are within their rights to charge a fee but these are people who are least likely to be able to afford such a payment,’ he said. ‘Practices are seeking to stop this work. The government needs to look very carefully at the medical assessment process and in its own guidance it needs to be clear that it is not appropriate for GPs to be asked to support appeals.’

A DWP spokesman was unavailable to comment at the time of going to press.

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