The Reality of Disability Claims - Malcolm's Letter
Author: Malcolm Mort
In this detailed letter Malcolm Mort tells the story of his life since becoming disabled. He tells how difficult it has been to get good support and how hostile and challenging the benefit system has been for decades. He concludes that the current UK Government's changes will simply make a bad system worse.
Essential reading for anyone under the illusion that disability benefits are easy to claim.
I am an Ex-Armed Services Member of the Labour party who many years ago served as a Provost Policeman in the Royal Air Force and have considerable experience as a Royal British Legion voluntary Welfare Caseworker who was also the secretary of the County Welfare Advisory Committee for the County of Glamorgan until my sight prevented me from driving. In addition I am the Merchant Navy Association (Wales) Cardiff Honorary Welfare Officer. My Royal British Legion Membership is with West Glamorgan Holding Branch No 2890.
I am 77 years of age, single and live alone with the help of neighbours and a trusted friend who has his own family. I live in a complex of 10 specially built bungalows for retired and disabled Merchant Navy Seafarers. I have written this with a story line to enable me to cover the finer points of my developing health problems and difficulties which were discounted over a three years period by contract doctors doing medical examinations for the Benefits Agency Medical Services to assist DWP Benefit Decision Makers arriving at the right conclusions in accordance with the benefit awarding criteria.
Since I want this letter to serve as a discussion point for training and publicity purposes, I have written about my own experiences so that they can be compared with the dismal failings of the 2013 Benefits and Welfare Legislation by the present Westminster Con-Dem Coalition Government, to exploit sick, disabled and unemployed people living in deprived areas like South Wales which in the past provided investors with handsome profits.
However I have taken the opportunity to use my own experiences of disability to introduce the reader to one of the many suddenly occurring life changing problems that can be experienced by so many people these days.
On the night of the 6th June 1974 I was serving as a 3rd Engineer Officer on the MV Helmsman which was a 3,704.90 Gross Rate Ton loaded coastal oil tanker heading for Plymouth when the flame-trap in the top of the funnel caught fire. The ship was extensively automated with bridge control and driven by the duty deck officer who closed the engine down. As engineers we worked days when at sea, unless we were sailing along rivers, loading or discharging cargo as required. On this occasion I was the duty engineer who with the help of the Chief Engineer climbed up the funnel and extinguished the fire. Afterwards I had a shower and got cleaned up before having a couple of cans of beer with the chief engineer before going to bed in my cabin.
It was 0800 Hrs on 7th June when the Steward called me with a mug of tea. I had considerable back pain and had trouble getting out of my bunk and was unable to stand upright. I had a wash and shave, put on my dressing gown and limped into the saloon for breakfast to the shouts of the Master, “ There are no Hammer Productions auditions here today Quazzy, So we’ll have to take you to the vet to be put down.” (Typical of MN seagoing humour.) However I was taken to a doctor who considered I needed hospital treatment. As the second mate was paying off, a car was hired for him to take me to Bristol and put me on a train with my baggage for Cardiff. On arrival at Cardiff, with the help of a porter I got a taxi home.
The following morning I got out of bed with difficulty experiencing pains in the neck and shoulders. I was unable to stand up straight. My knee and hip joints felt as if I had pins driven through them. Limping to the bathroom was rather awkward and painful because I staggered as if I didn’t have proper control of my feet. As I leaned over the washbasin my legs became shaky and unsteady. After washing and shaving I went downstairs and had breakfast which my mother had cooked.
Driving to my GP in my car was painful and uncomfortable, especially the left leg when using the clutch to change gear, with pains in my neck and left arm then changing gear. It was a strange feeling giving me the impression that my body was somehow twisted out of line alignment. On arrival I got out of the car and limped into the surgery in pain to sit down. After examining me the doctor said needed hospital treatment and that I would have to wait a few months for an appointment with a specialist. However I got him to telephone the shipping company who told him to telephone the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital at Greenwich, London. They agreed to accept me for treatment five days later with a letter from him on the condition I paid my own travel fare. He gave me a prescription for painkilling tablets and told me to go home and stay in bed until my travelling day.
On arrival at the Dreadnought I was examined and X-Rayed before being admitted and confined to three days bed rest. Since I was overweight I was immediately put on a diet. In due course I was put on heat treatment and special back exercises in the Gymnasium twice daily under the supervision of a Remedial Gymnast. From what I can remember I remained at home taking a break from seagoing work until I joined the MV Steersman at North Tees on 12 September as a 3rd Engineer. However 5 days later while doing repairs to the water piping system, standing on a ladder my back problem reoccurred and resulted being admitted to the Dreadnought Hospital for the same treatment. Unfortunately there were a number of other occurrences when after short seagoing time periods when I had been compelled to leave ships for hospital treatment. On one occasion after 7 days confined to bed on traction followed by exercises and heat treatment, I had been discharged and returned home. About a week later there was a noisy cracking sound from my back with pains in my legs which again resulted this time in the Consultant telling me I was, “Unfit for further seagoing service in the Merchant Navy.” He told me I had Spondylosis, which in my case could not be cured by surgery. My problems and pain was caused by the movement of my back trapping nerves. I had to learn and regulate my life to cope with what is an Arthritic degenerative illness which could probably result in me being compelled to use a wheelchair in later life. So whether I liked it or not my plans of rising to the rank of Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy came to an end in 1975 at the age of 39.
With my formal discharge from the MN I was interviewed by the Disablement Officer at the Cardiff Job Centre. He arranged for me to attend the Cardiff Industrial Rehabilitation Unit to establish what type of work my health would now permit me to do.
The first couple of weeks on the course involved siting education papers in Maths, English, Science, General Knowledge and Mechanical aptitude tasks stripping down a number of different electric meter clock gear sets and rebuilding them. There was a fitting test using an engineer’s square, rule, scriber, file, hacksaw and drills. We were given a drawing of a 152mm square with an 80mm square to be cut out of the middle. Then required to make a square to fit this hole. The important thing being that the inner square fitted the hole accurately when turned around in four positions fitting all corners. The material being used for this exercise was Perspex. The completed work piece had to be highly polished and free from scratch marks. This being a typical test given to Apprenticeship candidates.
On the Monday of the third week I was asked to use a lathe. I suppose I had been using it about an hour when my legs started to feel painful and shaky and was sent to see their doctor who was of the opinion I should take part in exercises in the gymnasium. When I objected because of my back problem. He gave me the option of doing as he told me or being terminated from the course.
After lunch I did as instructed and within about ten minutes I experienced severe back and leg pain. I experienced difficulty standing and was sent home to see my GP and a few days later admitted to the Dreadnought Hospital.
As usual after being X-Rayed I was confined to be bed for three days with pain killing tablets. On the third day approaching lunchtime I was given an injection in my back and told to stay in bed. A short time later I experienced tingling sensations and stabbing pains in my back, legs, arms and shoulders. In the evening I became very depressed after thinking about my future working and living prospects.
Suddenly I got out of bed and left the ward to go to the toilet, I felt thirsty and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. After leaving the kitchen I stood looking over the railings looking down into the stairwell of the lower floor. To the right of the railings was the descending stairs. Then I noticed the safety net. So I moved further towards the stairs thinking of jumping rather than facing the possibility of being a burden to the family for the rest of my life. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and the Charge Nurse asked me what I was doing by the stairs. I replied, “I don’t fancy living the rest of my life in this state.” He suggested that we went to his office for a coffee and a little talk. I agreed and he said, “When you walked out of the ward and passed me as if in a trance without asking permission I followed you and have been close by you and watching you for the last five minutes. We discussed how I felt and that I had a terrible headache with pains as if somebody was sticking needles in me all over my body at different times. I drank my coffee and he put me back in bed. A few minutes later a doctor arrived and gave me an injection which put me to sleep. When I awoke the following morning I was informed that I had slept like a snoring pig and kept everybody awake. My back was less painful and I felt more relaxed. The surgeon told me that he considered his first thoughts of an exploratory back operation were too risky and made the point that my condition could be treated as an out-patient at a hospital where I lived if it wasn’t for the problem of long waiting lists. It was decided to move me to the ward for short staying patients. Within a week of heat treatment and supervised exercises in the gymnasium I was discharged and returned home.
On the Monday morning I went to the Cardiff Job Centre and discussed what had happened with the disablement officer who told me that the Industrial Rehabilitation Unit were not prepared to take me back. However their report stated that my interview test results and engineering experience was acceptable for me to attend the Polytechnic of Wales as a student on the Industrial Engineering & Management Techniques Certificate Course sponsored by the Manpower Services Commission. Since this twelve weeks Resettlement Management Training Course didn’t commence until October the following year (1975), I continued to receive sickness benefit as unfit for work until the course commenced. In the meantime I did the back exercises twice daily at home as instructed.
As well as taking medication for Arthritis, depression and pain. However I found the best way of getting a good night’s relaxing sleep to be a couple of tots of whisky.
The course at the Polytechnic Of Wales comprised of eight (8) weeks full-time study on their premises and four (4) weeks full-time external to the Polytechnic, undertaking a selected placement project with the Standard Telephone Cables factory at Newport, Gwent to study the reliability and machine breakdown problems frequently occurring with the production of large multi-stranded large telephone cables, where the production line machine operators were on piecework.
While at the College I studied the following subjects: Work Study, Organisation Methods, Management Principles, Organisational Behaviour, Industrial Relations.
On completion of my project I was congratulated by their Industrial Engineering Manager and told that he could not offer me employment because he was faced with having to make redundancies in The Work & Method Study Department. Therefore in February 1976 I was again in the hands of the Cardiff Job Centre, this time with my Green Disability Work Card and my name in the Professional & Executive Register signing as unemployed.
I attended a number of interviews for engineering work & method study posts without success. However all of these prospective firms were prepared to employ me on electrical and mechanical engineering projects as they were impressed by my merchant navy electrical, mechanical, electronic and hydraulic, automation and control maintenance experience. Unfortunately working in confined spaces, climbing or descending ladders was now beyond my physical capability.
In August 1976 with the help of the Cardiff Job Centre Disablement Officer, John Curran, Aeronautical & General Engineers employed me as an Engineering Inspector with a Disabled Employment Green Card. I was interviewed for the post as a site inspector to work on the installation and maintenance of Radar Installations and Jet Engine Test Beds. However there was a clause in my employment contract which enabled the firm to use me to do inspection surveys for repair and modification work to equipment after electricians and fitters had disassembled it prior me writing my inspection reports. Another condition was being on call to RAF and Civil Aviation Establishments, Rolls Royce and Marconi Radar.
My first task as the site inspector installing a jet engine test bed working from the Drawings and installation manual, schedules and drawings met with a commendation at the handover meeting with the Ministry of Defence.
My second task involved the removal of a failed 9 Ton Radar Turntable at an RAF Establishment in the Shetlands. Unfortunately the installation team had trouble with the crane putting some special lifting equipment into place. Part of the structure started to swing with the danger of colliding with a gantry supporting the turntable which was to be removed. I reached upwards and caught hold of the beam with no real effort to stop the structure swinging. However within a couple of minutes I had pain in my neck and shoulders. My knees and hip joints felt as if I had nails driven in them. My legs felt shaky and compelled me to sit down. However after about 15 minutes the pain became less and l was more steady, but still limped. The following morning the pains returned and the limp was worse which resulted in the medical officer sending me home under the care of my GP. I was again sent to the Dreadnought for treatment as an in-patient. This time I was told I would not be given future treatment because I no longer qualified as I had taken further employment since leaving the Merchant Navy. As far as they were concerned my NHS Treatment was available where I lived and they had long waiting lists of their local people as well as shipping industry people.
As things turned out I worked for John Curran Aeronautical & General Engineers Ltd, Cardiff until being made redundant on the 26 March 1985 after we no longer had the prospect of any further orders for Jet Engine Test Beds. In addition the new Marconi Defence Rader System had been successfully tested and accepted into service by the Ministry Of Defence.
After having a holiday I went to the Cardiff Job Centre and signed as unemployed. I then saw the Disablement Officer who put my name forward to the Manpower Service Commission to attend the HNC in Engineering. Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing Course at the Polytechnic of Wales, from September 1986 to February 1987.
As I had a long time to wait before the start of my Polytechnic course, I took a part-time job as a relief security officer and trained with NACAB as a voluntary adviser and worked in my local Citizens Advice Bureau. Here I met people from the many walks of life of all ages who were having problems dealing with Social Security benefit claims involving wrong payments and rejections. A major problem was Social Security staff being unable to understand the legislation and the relevant benefit awarding criteria as it applied with its exemption clauses. I faced people threatening me because they thought I was siding with the Social Security people. Some in despair, crying in fear of losing their homes through unemployment and debt problems after having been visited by a bailiff who had taken an inventory of their home contents.
In September I attended the Polytechnic of Wales at Treforest. As part of the course I had to find an industrial placement for myself. Unfortunately I was unable to find a firm using Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing Equipment to give me the opportunity of work experience.
As things turned out I did my project with my brother who was manufacturing video jukeboxes for the advertising and entertainment purposes in public houses and clubs. On successful completion of the course at 51 years of age I applied for several engineering staff jobs without success due to my disability.
With my father having passed away I was left caring for my infirm elderly widowed mother. With my Bank Manager telling me that he would no longer be able to support me unless I got a job I was compelled to return to doing part-time security work. Due to the boredom of the long lonely unsociable hours of security work I became interested in writing and started to study Journalism which eventually led me to studying for my Criminology Diploma at Cardiff University Extra Mural Studies Department. My main interests are: News Media, Unsatisfactory business transactions, Confidence tricksters, Politics, Social and Welfare problems.
However in April 1994 I suffered another setback when the blood vessels in the back of my right eye ruptured due to high blood pressure and required laser surgery to save it. This resulted in the Job Centre having me classed as unemployable as double vision compelled me to have the right hand lens of my spectacles occluded. Fortunately my field of vision in the left eye was sufficient to allow me to continue driving which ceased to be a pleasure. When walking on crowded pavements I had to be careful not to collide with approaching pedestrians or trip over kerb stones.
From what I can remember I was walking home one night a few hundred yards from my local public house in August 1997 when my pace started to shorten. This was followed by pains in my neck, back and legs before I started limping. On arriving at home I had a cup of tea before going upstairs to bed. Climbing the stairs my ankle, knees and hip joints became painful, feeling as if I had pins driven through them making me feel unsteady. Although I took painkilling tablets I did not sleep too well.
The following morning I found it difficult to get out of bed and I limped to the bathroom unable to stand upright. I washed and shaved the best way I could. My mother cooked my breakfast and I went back to bed again because I was unable to get an appointment to see my GP until later in the week.
Resulting from my meeting with my GP I saw the manager of the local Citizens Advice Bureau and he telephoned the Department of Social Security requesting the claim forms to enable me to claim for the DLA Care and Mobility Benefits.
Within a few weeks my claim forms arrived enabling him and I to sit down together and provide the information requited to enable my claim to be processed. We discussed my health and disability problems in detail before completing the form which took us about one and a half hours.
Unfortunately three months later I received a letter of rejection stating the following reasons: (1) The opinion in the report by the visiting doctor who examined me at home. (2) What I had said in my application about my health condition. (3) The Benefits Agency Decision Maker. (4) The Social Security Act References as they concerned my claim.
Not being satisfied I asked for my claim to be looked at again. In due course I was notified that this had been done and there were no grounds to reconsider the Decision Makers opinion. However I make the point that this reconsideration conveniently allowed the Benefits Agency to confirm the accuracy of the Decision Maker prior to the claimant considering to appeal further. Not being satisfied with the content of the content of the examining doctor’s report I decided to appeal to the Tribunal level.
In the meantime I expressed my concern about the medical examination not accurately expressing my true health condition to the Benefits Agency Quality Manager. I also queried the qualifications, and the standard of the written report, stating that a St John’s Ambulance Cadet could write a better report. In addition I raised a query with the British Medical Council asking if this Asian Doctor who had arrived at my home in a very nice looking BMW car was qualified to practice in this Country.
Within a few weeks I had a letter from the Quality Manager of the Benefits Agency Medical Service (BAMS) who explained in detail the difference a medical examination for diagnostic and treatment purposes compared, with a medical examination establishing the extent a person’s health problems influenced their ability to safely cope with their daily living tasks without the risk of their health condition being worsened. Also the fact that the visiting contract doctors doing benefit examinations for the Benefits Agency were specially trained for the purpose.
However I stress the fact that this was a 45 minutes impartial medical examination by a doctor with no previous knowledge of my health condition who, I had never seen before. The medical report structure followed the layout and questions that I answered when I filled in the 40 pages contained in the benefits claim pack. The purpose of this Medical Examination served to provide Information to assist the Decision Maker arriving at the correct decision with respect to awarding the benefit or rejecting my claim.
In due course I attended the Appeal Tribunal accompanied by a close friend who considered I had stood up well to the 45 minutes of cross questioning. The people present were the Chairman, Doctor, Benefits Agency Representative and a lady in a wheelchair with a knowledge of welfare work.
The lady said, “Having listened to you talking about your walking problems and your occasional loss of balance and staggering. Why don’t you use a walking frame?” To be honest I told her I didn’t see a need to. Then I was asked why I didn’t use a walking stick. I explained that I had tried to. But it worsened my limp a caused considerably more leg and back pain. However they rejected my appeal.
When I told my GP about using a walking frame. He told me it would be too dangerous as I could injure myself if I fell over on top of it while using it. I told him that I was concerned about being overweight and asked what I could physically do to lose some more bodyweight.
He suggested swimming. When I told him I couldn’t swim. He stared in surprise and remarked I had been at sea for years. I countered his comment by asking him where I could I swim to if the ship had gone down in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He smiled before sending me to the local baths for swimming lessons.
My first lesson commenced in the shallow end of the pool with me holding the bath rail with two hands, facing the water surface and moving my legs to keep afloat. After about 20 minutes I came out of the water and had a problem experiencing leg, back and neck pains when attempting to stand.
After limping heavily to the shower I went to my locker and got changed. However the alignment of my body felt strangely different when standing, giving me the impression that I was standing on stumps rather than my heels as I staggered and limped to my car in the nearby car park.
A few days later I went to visit a friend at her house. When getting out of the car I had to catch hold of the roof to stand up. Being unsteady on my feet I overbalanced and fell against the car body as I closed the door. My friend asked me if I had been drinking. “No. It’s all part of this bloody sometimes health circus,” I told her.
The Citizens Advice Bureau Manager and I decided to let a few months pass before making another claim.
The following week I again went to the baths for a swimming lesson. This time I was given floats to support my body weight and told to paddle and kick my feet at the same time. This wasn’t all that successful because the kicking power of the both legs was not the same with the stroke of the left leg being shorter. The instructor thought it would be easier to teach me to swim on my back. This resulted in me swimming and turning left, rather than progressing across the pool in a straight line.
When the lesson finished I had a problem standing when I got out of the pool, had a shower before limping and staggering to my car in the car park. The following day I saw my GP and decided to discontinue the swimming lessons as they appeared to be aggravating my condition.
In due course I again applied for the DLA Care and Mobility Benefits. This was also met with a rejection on the information I had given about my health problem in the Claim Pack, The contents of the examining Benefits Agency Doctor’s medical report. The opinion of the Benefits Agency Decision Maker.
In 1998 after a few months had passed, I decided to make another claim with the help of a Solicitor who, read my previous rejected claim packs and letters of rejection together with my daily diary which I had submitted with my last claim.
To establish my state of health it was decided to seek an independent medical report from an Orthopaedic Surgeon to support my new claim for the DLA Care and Mobility benefits. I am therefore using the content of this report to raise a discussion point. The report gives my personal identification details which I have omitted for security purposes.
The medical report commences by stating it is based on information given to the surgeon which he believes to be accurate and true and upon his own clinical observations.
Mr Mort tells me that 23 years ago he was serving in the Merchant Navy, when he awoke one morning with back pain. The pain was radiating to his left leg.
He underwent traction for one week, which improved his discomfort. Mr Mort tells me that he worked until 1973 in the Merchant Navy, when he became an engineering inspector at Currans, a post he held for nine years. He was then made redundant.
Following that he looked after his ageing mother.
Mr Mort tells me that he attended college, obtaining a degree in criminology. (It was a diploma I studied for. Not a degree.)
Mr Mort tells me that over the last year his symptoms have deteriorated. The pain in his back has increased. The pain is mainly at the base of the spine and radiates to both legs, especially the left.
Mr Mort gets pain in both knees, due to osteo-arthritis. This has been a problem for one year.
Mr Mort tells me that he walks 50 yards and then has to rest. He finds it very difficult to walk on uneven surfaces, but he is able to get around his house.
Mr Mort is able to eat and drink normally, and can cook and look after himself. He is, however, unable to get down on his hands and knees to clean the floor, due to the pain in his knees.
His house has become extremely untidy, due to his inability to clean the house. Mr Mort tells me he is able to get dressed on his own.
Mr Mort lives alone, having looked after his mother until she died.
Mr Mort tells me that he also gets problems with his eyes. He has blurring of the right eye and that he has double vision and that he wears tinted glasses. Mr Mort has had no recent falls, and is able to drive a car, except at night. Mr Mort tells me that he is unable to do his own shopping due to his disability.
Mr Mort takes Co-codamol, Arthrotec and Aspirin, all of which are pain killers. He also takes Alupurinol, as a preventative for gout.
On examination Mr Mort is an overweight man, who walked into the examination room with a marked limp. He is right handed and wearing pink tinted spectacles.
On examination of the knees, there was a full range of movement for both knees, and these were both stable.
There is a crepitus on flexion, particularly on the left side.
On examination of the lumbar spine, flexion is limited by 20%. Extension is limited by 50%.
Lateral flexion is limited by 25% on both sides.
Rotation is limited by 20% in either direction.
Straight leg raising is uncomfortable, particularly on the left, but there are no signs of nerve root tension.
REVIEW OF THE X-RAYS
The recent x-rays of both knees, taken in the last few months reveal early osteo-arthritis of both knees, particularly affecting the patella-femoral joint, and worse slightly on the right.
Mr Malcolm Mort suffers with various disabilities. He has mechanical low back pain, although there are no signs of a prolapsed intra-vertebral disc. He also has early osteo-arthritis, affecting both knees, affecting specifically the patella-femoral joints.
Mr Mort also has partial loss of vision in the right eye, and needs to wear tinted spectacles.
Mr Mort tells me he is unable to walk more than 50 yards in comfort, and finds difficulty with uneven surfaces. Therefore Mr Mort’s ability to walk out of doors is limited, regarding the distance and speed at which he can walk. I would expect Mr Mort to be capable of walking between 50 and 75 yards before having to stop, due to discomfort in his knees and back.
Mr Mort also struggles to take care of himself, and perform his daily tasks at home. He is, however, able to get in and out of bed, able to wash, bath, dress and move around in doors. He is able to cook a main meal, and eat and drink.
Mr Mort has not recently experienced any falls, either indoors or outdoors.
It is unlikely that Mr Mort will require any knee replacement within the next two years, although Mr Mort’s condition is likely to deteriorate over the next few years.
When my solicitor and I read his report, we came to the conclusion that it was of little advantage to my DLA Care and Mobility claim. The problem here being that the surgeon did not record all that I told him and didn’t mention the bruises and scratches I had experienced. I got the impression that unless I had fallen to the ground and suffered injuries requiring major treatment, the risks were not serious enough to be considered.
My solicitor interviewed me and answered all of the questions required in the DWP claim pack and submitted the surgeon’s medical report with it. A few months later the benefits agency examining doctor came to my home and did the medical examination taking about 45 minutes.
About three months later I received a letter of rejection from the Benefits Agency stating the rejection was based on the information given in the claim pack. The report of the doctor’s medical examination for the benefits agency. The surgeons report and the opinion of the Decision Maker. The solicitor saw no point in appealing because of the costs involved and advised me to make a further claim with fresh evidence at a later date. The reality being that the solicitor had been had allocated sufficient money to prepare my case, but not enough to cover the costs of appealing which was considered an additional matter. HOWEVER WE NOTICED THAT AS IN ALL OF MY OTHER BENEFIT CLAIMS THAT, THE BENEFITS AGENCY HAD NOT SOUGHT THE COMMENTS OF MY GP OR ANY OTHER PERSONS NAME I HAD STATED, WHO COULD COMMENT ON MY EXPERIENCES CONCERNING ME COPING WITH MY DISABILITY.
On 10 May 2000 I again applied to the Benefits Agency for the DLA Care and Mobility Benefits because over the 1999 Christmas I got the impression that my health condition had suddenly started to deteriorate even more. Without doubt it was the worst depressing Christmas that I had ever had. I most certainly didn’t drink any alcohol and eat very little. It concerned me because I had been very tired and lethargic and spent most of the time asleep. I was very thirsty and frequently went to the toilet to pass water. My GP on examination considered my blood pressure to be too high and also took blood tests and put me on medication with Bendrofluazide. In addition I was also taking Allopurinal for gout and Co-Codamol also started to get occasional feelings that I was being punched in the left eye. This was explained as a trapped nerve due to my health problem. On some occasions I lost my balance when looking upwards when in the shower or shaving when experiencing head pains and a clicking noise in my head.
In due course the Benefits Agency sent a Doctor to examine me in my home. When he rang the bell I invited him inside and introduced myself. He had a very pleasant manner and took his medical report out of his briefcase, explaining that he required me to answer a number of questions about my health and how I coped with my daily living experiences. The other part of the medical was the physical examination which would take about 45 minutes. On completion of the medical I signed his Medical report and he left my home.
I make the point that the questions which I answered in the claim pack when I applied for the benefits are very cleverly put together in a manner that they raise questions in various situations to cross question applicants, which I see as a very well planned communication exercise requiring considerable thought and concentration with a good command of the English language. In particular it is fair to emphasise the fact that the format of the visiting medical examination report asks many of the same questions as in the benefit claim pack to provide the benefit Decision Maker with confirmed information as evidence in the decision making process. Very much a case of, “Although you have told us about it. Let’s see if the doctor confirms it?”
It is therefore inadvisable to attempt to complete benefit claim forms without having an understanding of the legislation governing the benefit awarding criteria. It is so easy for a claimant to contribute to their benefit rejection by answering the questions in a manner giving the wrong impression they can adequately cope with their health problems without undue risk. This I call, “Catch 22.”
Commenting on the recording of information by the examining doctor. He or she is instructed to write into the report what the claimant says in answer to these selected questions. For example: If the claimant is asked what happens when he wakes up each morning and he answers, “I get out of bed and go to the toilet.” That is what is written down in the medical report. Supposing the person had answered, “I don’t sleep well and I am back and forwards to the toilet a few times in the night with these tablets.” However the questioning is rather more subtle in that it can be information which becomes disclosed in a more general conversation. To continue, “What else did you do after you went to the toilet?” “I had a wash, went downstairs, let out the cat and made a cup of tea. Then I did poached egg on toast for my breakfast and went round the Post Office for my pension.” The point I stress here is that it is so easy to be led into a false sense of security and say things you should not have said, especially without knowing how the benefits legislation works. In the continuing conversation such questions as these arise, “How far is the Post Office from here?” an answer like, “It’s a fair walk up the road” without knowing the actual distance can be damning when the doctor starts asking questions about far it might be.
A couple of months later I received a letter from the Benefits Agency rejecting my claim for the DLA Care and Mobility Benefits. The reasons being on my information in the claim pack, the report of the examining Doctor for the Benefits Agency, the report from my GP and that of the Decision Maker. I telephoned my GP who told me that he had not received a request from the Benefits Agency for a medical report concerning me. However he was prepared to provide them with one. Neither he or any of the other doctors in the practice had not been asked by the Benefits Agency for a medical report concerning me, but was prepared to provide them with one. I immediately put the matter in the hands of a Solicitor who asked the Benefits Agency to reconsider their decision.
Within a few weeks I received a photocopy of my case documents and was far from satisfied with the briefness of the Benefits Agency examining Doctors Report. Although he correctly noted my illness as Cervical Spondylosis he did not mention it when I told him about the pains when walking, staggering and overbalancing. He was more interested in whether I had fallen. From what I can remember I had fallen and grazed my hands without any major injuries. It was interesting to discover that the decision maker in rejecting my claim had said that I had not fallen or injured myself. I was very concerned that my walking test was just a few yards. This situation is better explained by me In the claim pack which the Decision Maker should have observed if it had been properly read, or that person had the knowledge or ability to understand the implications of the accident risks to me, when asked in the claim pack: Describe in your own words the problems you have and the help you need when you are out of doors.
My walking problem exists all of the time, whether in the house or out of doors. Since my last claim for mobility my condition has worsened in that I now have to wear tubular bandages and Chelsea Boots because the left foot turned inwards and doubled over causing me to lose balance and fall over. A week later I had to again see my Doctor because the same occurred in the right foot with both ankles being painful. According to my Doctor this is a tendon problem which is put down to my condition of health with Rheumatism and Arthritis.
I don’t walk about the place. My pace is so short that it is better described as a shuffle. When moving about I try to put the weight on my heels because they are painful and no longer absorb the shock of walking on uneven paved surfaces. Both ankle joints are painful and there are stabbing pains in the underside of the arches of my feet.
In due course my GP provided my Solicitor with a report highlighting the risks which my health problems exposed me to. The content of this report I regard as private and confidential. However I see the need to quote the last question which is in three parts: (a) What if any further treatment is planned? Answer: He continues on medication. (b) What is the prognosis? Answer: His condition will slowly deteriorate. (c) Is the patient aware of this? Answer: Yes.
With the support of the medical report from my GP my Solicitor managed to get the Decision Makers rejection overturned which resulted in me being granted the DLA Care and Mobility Benefits. Since then my sight condition has worsened to the extent that I am registered as, “Severely Sight Handicapped.” My walking ability is now so restricted that I have to be pushed around in a wheelchair as if I try to walk more than about 50 metres my legs start to go dead compelling me to either sit or fall down.
Although I know that this legislation was later changed with the granting of DWP Medical Examining contracts to ATOS Medical Services by the Labour Party and found to be unsatisfactory.
However the Westminster Con-Dem Coalition Government persisted with the scheme with its terrible failures against public disapproval and introduced the 2013 Legislation exploiting sick, disabled and unemployed people to pay the debts owed by this country which clearly shows they do not respect or care about disabled people.
This annoys me because the media has exposed the DWP and ATOS together with this legislation as being unfit for purpose. Army Generals in times of war talk about acceptable casualties and deaths. This Con-Dem Coalition Government talks about acceptable inconveniences and happenings while this newly untried legislation settles in.
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
The Reality of Disability Claims © Malcolm Mort 2013.
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