Written evidence submitted by Steve Punter |
I set out, from my direct experience, why I believe
the DWP's medical assessments are not suitable or indeed safe
for people suffering from severe depression.
1. Just before Christmas 2010 I went to the Accident
and Emergency department (A&E) of my local general hospital
St Thomas's. I had been feeling very depressed since about July
that year when my contract with an independent production company
was not renewed.
2. I had been struggling to pay my credit card
bills that were carrying debts of around £25,000. I had racked
up this amount in an attempt to pay my way in terms of my mortgage
and service charges and other outgoings including an annual interest
rate of approaching 30% on the two credit cards I had. As a freelance
TV producer it was common to be unemployed for long periods.
3. By the time I arrived in the A&E my thoughts
were extremely gloomy and I was seriously contemplating taking
4. I had made one previous serious attempt to
kill myself in 2007. Again the triggers had been debt and unemployment.
5. I had been treated in 2007 by the CREST team
at Guy's Hospital.
6. In order to be seen by the crisis team again
I needed to be referred by either my GP or the hospital's consultant
7. I received exemplary treatment from the staff
at the York Clinic where the CREST team is based.
8. On the 24 December I signed on for ESA with
9. The doctor at Guy's issued a medical certificate
confirming I was unable to work.
10. Over the next eight weeks I was in the care
of the CREST team, the local community mental health team and
11. I had been prescribed an SSRI anti-depressant.
12. I applied for help with my housing costs.
I began to receive the assessment rate of ESA of £63 a week.
13. My GP continued to issue medical certificates
confirming I was not fit to work. I was also referred by my GP
for ACT. I am currently waiting to find a practitioner.
14. I had stopped functioning on a day to day
basis by August 2010.
15. I was failing to take care of myself and
found carrying out the most basic of tasks impossible.
16. My post remained unopened and bills unpaid.
I became reclusive and started to drink heavily as a self-harming
strategy. I bought a car tow rope and attached it to a beam in
my flat ready to end my life. Thoughts about killing myself filled
my mind constantly.
17. My hair and my beard grew long and I looked,
and no doubt behaved, like King Lear.
18. I had little money and was living on a diet
of baked potatoes and whatever Lidl's had reduced in the local
shop. My daily trip to Lidls, my fridge was broken, was the only
time I left the flat prior to seeing the doctors at St Thomas's.
19. By December I had decided it was time either
to end it or to get help. It was listening to Mr H talk about
his cancer and remembering Alastair Campbell saying that however
bad things appear they do get better. I had experience of this
from 2007. I knew that people were there to help.
20. I started seeing three of my friends once
a week. They were supportive and encouraged me to see the CREST
21. My recovery started soon after I was referred
to the CREST team. I saw members of the team on a regular basis.
I was referred to the local Citizens Advice Bureau to help with
my debts and a claim for benefit.
22. My landlord's solicitors took me to court
for unpaid service charge and a county court order was granted.
I had missed the deadline for submitting a defence as I had not
opened my letters for weeks. I was issued with a summons for possession
of my flat. I had debts totalling in excess of £35,000.
23. In March 2011 I was called for a medical
assessment by the DWP. I had one previously in 2007 when I had
been claiming Incapacity Benefit. On that occasion I had passed
24. At this time my mood was stable. I was waiting
the outcome of my claim for help with my housing costs. Waiting
and also trying to buy food on the money the state was giving
me was praying on my mind. Most days I was still thinking of killing
25. At the assessment the doctor went through,
as he explained, a checklist of questions, many of which were
not relevant to me as I was suffering from a mental illness. I
tried to explain, as best as I could, the symptoms I had including
my recurring thoughts of suicide.
26. I was told that someone else would determine
if I was fit to work. They would take into account what the doctors
who had treated me had to say.
27. Dr M told me, however, that he did not have
any information from my GP in front of him. I understand despite
asking for permission to see my medical notes no one from the
DWP has approached my GP.
28. The doctor also appeared slightly irritated
if my explanation did quite fit the question on his computer screen.
The test appears to me to be a snap shot and it is not best fitted
for those with mental illnesses like mine.
29. In the event I scored no points despite telling
the doctor about the state of my flat and my neglect of myself
and my affairs and my gloomy moods.
30. The doctor then took my blood pressure and
listened to my heart.
31. I was extremely anxious that if I failed
the assessment I would not get the help with my housing costs.
32. I made another attempt, unsuccessfully, to
take my life by swallowing 30 plus pills.
33. Within a few days I received a letter from
the DWP explaining that I had failed the medical assessment. No
one at the DWP was able to tell me why.
34. My GP has been reviewing my care on a fortnightly
basis. I explained what had happened. Perversely for some reason
the whole episode made me reassess my life. I stopped drinking
and now the medication appears to be working.
35. I have started to manage my affairs. My mood
is very much better.
36. My GP continues to issue medical certificates
as she believes recovery from mental illness takes time and is
pendulous. She says I should not be under any unnecessary pressure
even though my mood is much improved.
37. I have checked the Government website for
information about the medical assessment and found that there
is an exceptional circumstances clause. I would argue that my
case is covered by this clause and have appealed the DWP's decision
to stop my ESA.
38. From my experience I think the medical assessment
is not suited to deal with people with severe depression or other
mental illnesses where there are peaks and troughs. I had not
been asked about the impact a rejection from the medical assessment
might have. Nor were my doctors' asked for their advice.
39. I do not believe I am overstating it to say
that people lives are being put at risk. If I had taken a few
more pills or if they had been a little more potent I would not
be writing this to you today.