How to deal with Benefits medical examinations
NEVER FACE THEM ALONE
This leaflet describes how claimants for disability benefits can deal with the medical examinations by government doctors, which for many claimants are central in deciding whether or not you are entitled to disability benefits.
BEFORE THE EXAMINATION
The examinations are run by Medical Services (MS) which is operated by the private company SEMA on behalf of the Benefits Agency. Before a MS examination your own GP sends info to the Benefits Agency. It is important that this info is as full as possible and states clearly whether or not in their medical opinion you are fit for work at that time and in the forseeable future (at least 6 months ahead).
It is frequently the case that people with a long-term illness gradually minimise in their own minds the effect of their illness on their everyday lives and develop survival strategies to cope on a daily basis in an attempt to lead as normal a life as possible.
This can cause a problem as this habit when taken into a medical examination does not present a true picture of the illness and could be misleading. It might be helpful to discuss the reality of your illness and the limitations it imposes on your life with someone who knows both the illness and yourself well. The reality of your illness is what must be presented to the MS doctor and to the DSS.
If you have a Medical Services examination, either at the MS office or at your home, always have someone accompany you. This is your right. We have often done this. They cannot refuse you this right - if they try then just insist you need someone with you.
To obtain benefits you are legally required to attend this examination, and the information obtained at the examination is used, within a legal framework, to decide on your benefit entitlement - it is therefore vital to make sure your legal rights are protected.
If the date for the examination is not suitable, eg your accompanying person cannot make it on that date, you can get the date changed. If you are unable to travel to the examination you can ask for a home visit instead. If you change the arrangements over the phone write to confirm the changes. You have the right to be seen by a Doctor of the same sex.
Meet the accompanying person beforehand to discuss what's going to happen. Before the examination you should be clear that -
¥the examination can be halted to allow you to go to the toilet, have a glass of water, take a pill, or if you feel faint or ill. The examination should only proceed if you feel happy to continue.
¥you should refuse to do anything that hurts or distresses you.
The person accompanying you should take a pen and paper and also a watch. If possible, take a tape recorder. Peter Mathison, Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, has stated that the taping of medical examinatons can be carried out. Take your medicines, and any aids you use, such as a walking stick or crutches.
You can claim travel expenses for going to the examination - but if you need to take a taxi you must contact the MS beforehand.
AT THE EXAMINATION
You should be aware that the examination begins on entry to the examination centre and does not end until you leave the centre. An evaluation of your medical condition does not only take place when you are in front of the examing doctor, but also potentially on your way into the building, in the waiting room, and on your way out. They could note the length of time you can sit without apparent discomfort, how you pick up your bag, etc..
At the examination the Doctor should
ASK if you are willing to be examined.
The doctor should not attempt to 'manipulate' parts of your body.
During the examination you should
The person accompanying you should
Take notes on everything the Doctor and the claimant say, what the Doctor asks the claimant to do, what happens. Especially note any aggressive attitude or manner adopted by the Doctor. Note the exact words spoken.
If the claimant's distress is due to mistreatment by the doctor, stop the interview, then say that you will be making a complaint with a request for an examination at a future date with a different doctor.
At the end of the examination ask the Doctor to read back their notes, to check the Doctor has made an accurate record. If the Doctor refuses, then note that and what reason he/she gives for refusing. If there seem to be any inaccuracies in the Doctor's notes, check with the claimant, then if necessary ask the Doctor to change their notes. If they refuse then make a note of that, writing down exactly what they said.
AFTER THE EXAMINATION
If the Doctor did anything wrong, then as soon as posible afterwards write a letter of complaint to BAMS and to the DSS - don't wait for the decision to come through. The letter should be signed by both the claimant and the accompanying person. There is more info on making a complaint in the Disability Rights Handbook (Disability Alliance), or contact us.
THE BIG PICTURE
The MS Doctor system was set up to save the government money by cuttting the numbers of people getting disability benefits. It is based on disregarding the judgement of the claimant and their own doctor - and instead giving the decision-making power to government doctors who have a remit to stop people getting benefits.
The mistreatment of claimants at MS examinations is happening in the context of the attacks on disability and single parents benefits in the new Welfare Reform Act, and the general drive through the Welfare Reform Act, the New Deal etc. to move closer to a US-type workfare system where claimants are forced to either take any low paid job available or work for an employer in order to receive benefits. This in turn is part of the move to "increase labour market flexibility" - in other words cutting wage costs and increasing company profits.
We encourage and aid claimants organising together, and linking up with workers in employment, to oppose and take action against these government policies. Why should we put up with a system where everything is run for the profit of a rich elite? Why shouldn't society's resources belong to everyone, and be used for people's needs?
Edinburgh Claimants Solidarity Network brings together claimants who are willing to accompany each other to benefits interviews and benefits medical examinations. Contact us if you'd like to join, or find out more. We advise people to take someone with them to any potentially tricky benefits interview. Don't face them alone!
Published by Edinburgh Claimants, c/o Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 17 W.Montgomery Pl., Edinburgh EH7 5HA (near Leith Walk) tel 0131 557 6242 www.autonomous.org.uk/ec/
ACE is open tues 1-4pm (claimants day) & sun 2-6 pm. We have regular meetings and activities and welcome new people. We can also put you in touch with contacts elsewhere in Britain.