The Medical Services (MS) Doctor system was set up to save the government money by cutting 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 benefits claimants in the new Welfare Reform Act, 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.
Please note this guide is not intended to be a complete or authoritative statement of the law and you should always seek professional guidance if you are in any doubt about your rights or responsibilities.
Before The Examination
The examinations are run by MS which is operated by the private, profit driven companies 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 foreseeable 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, e.g. 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. 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 examining 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:
- Be courteous and considerate.
- Spend some time explaining the purpose of the examination.
- ASK if you are willing to be examined.
- Ask you and give you time to explain YOUR OWN VIEW of how you are affected by your condition, including how it affects your ability to do day to day tasks like shopping, cooking, cleaning and so on.
- The doctor should not attempt to ‘manipulate’ parts of your body.
During the examination you should:
- Make sure the Doctor realises the full extent of your illness/ disability, including any other conditions/ illnesses you may have. Remember, unlike your GP, this doctor does not know your medical history.
- Describe how you feel on a “bad day”, rather than on a “good day”.
The person accompanying you should:
- Write down the name of the Doctor, the place of examination, the time of starting and finishing the examinaion.
- 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.
- Intervene and ask for the examination to be halted if the claimant becomes unwell or distressed. The claimant should have a break until they feel well enough to continue.
- Object to and stop any attempt by the Doctor to have the claimant do exercises which could injure or distress them. You should have the examination stopped if the claimant is becoming ill or distressed for any reason. If the claimant is not fit to continue then the examination should be postponed until another day.
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.
Time the length of the examination and any breaks taken (some Doctors have been known to exaggerate the length of time of the examination to make it appear more thorough than it was).
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 possible afterwards write a letter of complaint to Benefits Agency MS 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.