Are DWP assessments damaging the NHS?

By Bernadette Meaden
October 12, 2015

As overstretched NHS staff approach winter with even greater trepidation than usual, one of the biggest problems they face, apart from chronic underfunding, is a shortage of doctors and nurses. Are the actions of another government department making this problem even worse?

Recruitment and retention problems in the NHS mean that the pressure on existing staff increases, and morale plummets. With work having a negative effect on their families, it is hardly surprising that a Royal College of Nursing survey found that 66 per cent of NHS staff had considered leaving, whilst 80 per cent of senior doctors are thinking about retiring early.

The solution to these problems lies in the hands of the Department of Health, or ultimately, the Treasury. But whilst they seem to be in denial of the seriousness of the problems NHS staff face, the work of another government department may be exacerbating the recruitment crisis.

The Department for Work and Pensions is paying a multinational company called Maximus to conduct Work Capability Assessments (WCA). In order to do this, Maximus, calling itself the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, is recruiting doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to carry out assessments. The pay and conditions they can offer, thanks to a lucrative contract from the DWP, are attractive.

For hard-pressed NHS workers doing long shifts, irregular hours and much unpaid overtime in a high stress working environment, the idea of a nine to five office-based job, working 37.5 hours per week with a good salary must seem like a heaven-sent opportunity to escape. Maximus is offering doctors £84,000, and nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists up to £45,000.

It is understandable that medical professionals, feeling stressed and undervalued in the NHS, would be tempted to take what appears to be a much easier option, for the sake of their families.

Yet Maximus/DWP's gain will be the NHS's loss. And here comes the supreme irony. When these qualified medical professionals have completed a Work Capability Assessment, it is passed to a DWP Decision Maker, who is not medically qualified. Those Decision Makers take the final decision as to whether the claimant should receive Employment and Support Allowance.

Meanwhile, in order to undertake DWP assessments for Personal Independence Payments, Capita is recruiting staff with "at least two years" post-registration experience as an Occupational Therapist (OT), Physiotherapist, Nurse, Paramedic or Doctor.

So at a time when the NHS faces staff shortages, the DWP and its corporate contractors are busy luring away hard-pressed staff. It can hardly be described as joined-up government.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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