Disabled claimants lose out on assessments

11 Apr 02
Some of the most disadvantaged people in society are missing out on disability benefits because of delays and mistakes in medical assessments, MPs have discovered.

12 April 2002

The Commons Public Accounts Committee found that applicants for disability living allowance and incapacity benefit, which are awarded on the basis of medical assessments, frequently wait too long for decisions.

Since 1998, assessments have been carried out by private firm Sema. The committee said the delays were caused by a shortage of doctors, poor management systems and outdated technology.

These backlogs, and the delays in stopping payments to claimants no longer entitled to them, are costing the taxpayer £40m a year.

MPs have recommended that other health professionals besides doctors are used to carry out assessments. 'This is an important way of offsetting shortages of doctors, speeding up the assessment process and reducing costs,' they said.

Difficulties in obtaining accurate and up-to-date medical information about claimants have also led to a high level of appeals: over 50% of those turned down for benefits subsequently lodge one.

Of these appeals, 40% are successful, and a quarter of these are because assessors have made mistakes in interpreting the medical evidence. The report found that up to 10% of Sema's assessments were 'substandard'.

The MPs also called on the Department for Work and Pensions to consider whether Sema should pay compensation to claimants who are called for a medical assessment and not seen.

Around 17,000 people are turned away from a scheduled appointment because Sema has deliberately overbooked to ensure doctors see as many people as possible.

PAC chair Edward Leigh said claimants were entitled to prompt, accurate and efficient decisions. The current problems 'represent a significant shortfall in the quality of public service to some of the most disadvantaged people in society', he added.


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