Working for the Tribunals Service

Dr Vanessa Rogers explains why she gave up general practice in favour of a full-time judicial post.

My Tribunals Service work has been the most constant feature of my career and I think this reflects the fact that the work itself is interesting, enjoyable and satisfying.

Discussing cases with lawyers allows a fascinating insight into the workings of the law and judicial service. We are often able to correct injustices affecting very vulnerable and deserving people, as well as (less often, in my experience) deny benefits to those who are trying to ‘play’ the system.

I first started hearing cases for the Tribunals Service 16 years ago. At the time I, like most GPs, had never heard of the Tribunal and had no idea what it did. The senior partner at my practice explained that its role was to hear appeals from people turned down for benefits, such as disability living allowance, after being assessed by a doctor working for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Job Terms and Conditions
  • Appointment as a fee-paid judicial office holder is for an initial period of five years.   
  • The appointment may be renewed for successive five-year periods subject to an upper age limit of 70 years.
  • Fees range from £310 to £371 a day.   
  • The minimum sitting requirement is 15 days per year. There is normally the opportunity to sit far more frequently.
  • Office holders are entitled to maternity, paternity and adoption leave and statutory sick  pay.
  • Travel costs to all appeals venues are paid or reimbursed.
  • Office holders are expected to refrain from any activity, political or otherwise, which would conflict with their judicial office or be seen to compromise their  impartiality.
  • The Judicial  Appointments Commission is currently seeking to recruit 155 new medical  members for the Social Entitlement Chamber. Visit http://jac.judiciary.gov.uk/ to find out more and to download an information pack and  application form.

 

From a personal point of view, the flexibility of the sessions was a great attraction as they could be easily fitted around my GP work and looking after my pre-school children. Sixteen years later, the opportunity arose to take a salaried full-time post with the Tribunal. As my children now require less care, I applied.

Jumping ship
I felt rather nervous about ‘jumping ship’ altogether from the NHS but last November I started work as one of six ‘salaried medical members’ across the country. My new role involves delivering training and appraisal to doctors working for the Tribunal, sitting on tribunal hearings, and assisting in the forthcoming selection process to appoint a large number of new sessional doctors - ‘fee-paid medical members’ in judiciary speak , which is being advertised at the end of February. Details are available at the Judicial Appointments Commission website.

Sessional tribunal work fits well into a flexible portfolio or part-time career. Many doctors – GPs and hospital consultants – take up this work on retiring as you can work until you are 70.

The job
Flexibility is one of the main attractions: if you want to have a month off you can. The sessions run from 10am to 5pm and the doctor sits alongside a lawyer and sometimes a disability specialist. During the tribunal, the doctor takes a major part in interviewing the individual to get evidence relevant to the legislation.

This is different from making a medical diagnosis. You are not considering symptoms to decide whether someone has diabetes. Rather you are deciding how someone who says they have diabetes is affected in terms of their ability to work or look after themselves.  

Training is provided
Initial and continuing training is provided. The training is designed to update sessional doctors with regard to various conditions that are commonly the subject of appeals, particularly how claimants’ symptoms relate to the relevant legislation covering the benefits they may have applied for. Delivering training is a novel experience for me and I found giving the opening address at my first training day to 110 medics a rather nerve-racking introduction to public speaking!

Being an appraiser is also something new to me. It is a great opportunity to meet doctors from a variety of backgrounds and localities, and discuss their tribunal work.

My medical career has been somewhat unusual. Having started in general practice and adding some sessions with the tribunals, I then started working as a clinical assistant in dermatology.

Now I am working full time for the Judiciary, having had my appointment paperwork personally signed by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor. The pace of work is a welcome change from the increasingly frenetic environment of clinical medicine in the NHS, with sufficient time allocated for hearing and assessing evidence.

The flexibility of the sessional work makes it ideal for fitting around my changing domestic and work commitments. Overall I would highly recommend it.

  • Former GP Dr Vanessa Rogers works for the Tribunals Service as a full-time salaried medical member.

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