Social Security Benefits: Mental Illness

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 4th October 2010.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which organisations his Department contracts to provide mental health assessments to determine benefit claimants' fitness to work; what steps his Department takes to determine the level of expertise of practitioners within such organisations to make such assessments; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The work capability assessment, which assesses capability for work in order to determine entitlement to employment and support allowance, and the personal capability assessment, which assesses capability for work in order to determine entitlement to incapacity benefit, are carried out on behalf of the Department by health care professionals employed by Atos Healthcare.

Health care professionals are required to have a minimum of three years post-registration experience and this should include broad based medical practice in roles that have clear relevance to a career in disability assessment medicine. Only in exceptional cases and solely at the discretion of the DWP Chief Medical Adviser, may that requirement for a minimum of three years post registration experience be waived.

The DWP Chief Medical Adviser on behalf of the Secretary of State must approve all health care professionals before they can carry out assessments. Approval is only granted when a health care professional has undergone the required training, successfully achieved the required level of competence and demonstrated that their work meets the required quality standards.

All health care professionals receive training in mental health issues as part of their induction training and are required to follow evidence based protocols relating to mental health conditions. In addition, all health care professionals are required to engage in a programme of continuing medical education which includes modules on mental health issues. All training material is developed in conjunction with and agreed by the Chief Medical Adviser.

The work of all health care professionals is subject to random quality audit by a system agreed with the DWP and which is conducted by experienced medical auditors within Atos Healthcare. The quality of Atos Healthcare's audit is validated by senior medical auditors from Atos Healthcare and doctors working for the Chief Medical Adviser to the DWP.

The work capability assessment was designed and subsequently reviewed in close consultation with organisation representing people with mental health conditions. We have now commissioned the first of five independent reviews of the WCA and are pleased that Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, is sitting on the review's Scrutiny Group, which will provide advice and challenge to the lead reviewer.

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