GP leaders today rebuffed efforts to link doctors to the new pressure applied to sick patients seeking benefits.
Two GP organisations called on the government to change the wording of an advisory letter. The letter instructed GPs to cease issuing fit notes to patients who have lodged appeals against refusal of benefits.
Senior GPs have been angered after the Department for Work and Pensions claimed the letter had been approved by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs.
GP representatives said they were shown the letter at a meeting – but were not asked to give their approval to it.
The BMA said today that its advice to GPs was to continue issuing fit notes while patients are appealing. This would ensure they received their full benefits if an appeal was successful.
Dr Peter Holden, who chairs its professional fees committee, said: “We have long said that neither the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) nor its predecessor processes are fit for purpose, and this letter is another example of doctors and patients having to work within the boundaries of an overly bureaucratic and obstructive system.
“For patients going through the process of applying for ESA and those subsequently appealing any decision, we recognise this is an incredibly distressing time.
“If a patient is denied ESA but is in the process of appealing, their GP should continue to provide them with fit notes so they are able to continue receiving payments, and we have issued guidance to members just this week clarifying this.”
The Royal College of GPs said some doctors had refused fit notes based on the advice in the letter.
Writing to Frank Field, who chairs the House of Commons select committee on the DWP, chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard says that “significant evidence” has emerged of the negative impact on some patients.
She calls for the advisory letter to be changed to state that GPs should consider giving fit notes to patients who have lodged an appeal.