13 September 2016
What: After a freedom of information battle with DWP, the Benefits and Work website secures a memo sent out by Maximus just a few days after the existence of the Michael O’Sullivan prevention of future deaths report was first revealed by Disability News Service. It reminds staff dealing with the early “filework” stage of an ESA claim, that if there is evidence of a previous suicide attempt, suicidal ideation or self-harm expressed in the claimant’s ESA50 capability for work questionnaire, the healthcare professional must ask for further medical evidence. The memo suggests this “clear and unequivocal” point has been in guidance since 6 December 2010. The memo says: “We have had two historical cases recently brought to our attention where we have been challenged regarding a decision not to request FME at the filework stage. In both of these cases there has ultimately been a tragic outcome. Whilst the outcome may or may not have occurred in any case, the facts remain, that at filework the practitioner has not followed guidance.” Although it is not clear, this appears to refer to the deaths of Stephen Carré and Michael O’Sullivan. Neither of these claims were dealt with by Maximus, so it is not clear why they suggest they had been challenged about their own failings in these cases. DWP had told the coroner after the Michael O’Sullivan PFD that it would issue a reminder to staff about the guidance related to suicidal ideation that has been described in this report. It was not able to provide a copy of this reminder to Benefits and Work, but instead sent the memo sent out a year later, apparently by Maximus.
Why significant: The memo appears to confirm that DWP did change its guidance in December 2010, presumably as a result of the Stephen Carré PFD. But the change, although likely to have made the WCA system slightly safer, did not go as far as many campaigners said was needed, which was to ensure that further medical evidence was sought early on for all claimants with experience of mental distress or learning difficulties. As Benefits and Work pointed out, DWP’s failure to produce the memo sent out in 2014 raises questions over whether it was ever sent out.