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Disability Rights Campaigners Call On MSPs To Probe Michael O’Sullivan Case

September 25, 2015

DISABILITY rights campaigners are calling on Scottish ministers to condemn the General Medical Council (GMC) over its failure to probe the death of a disabled man who took his own life after being found fit for work.

Patient-led campaign group the Black Triangle said it could “see no reason” why the Scottish Government could not launch an immediate inquiry into the conduct of the independent regulator.

Details of a coroner’s report, which ruled that father-of-two Michael O’Sullivan died as a direct result of being found fit for work by the UK Government’s disability assessors, was exposed by the Disability News Service investigative journalist John Pring earlier this week.

In the report to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the coroner for inner north London demanded it take action to prevent further deaths after concluding the “trigger” for O’Sullivan’s suicide was his fit-for-work assessment.

The 60-year-old from north London was moved from Employment Support on to Jobseeker’s Allowance after 10 years despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was unable to work. He killed himself at his home on September 24, 2013.

His daughter Anne-Marie said her father should never have been ruled fit to work.

The loss or reduction of benefits have previously been cited by coroners as a factor in deaths and suicides of claimants.

However, this is the first time the work capability assessment (WCA) process has been blamed directly for a death.

In a document marked “sensitive”, the coroner Mary Hassell told the DWP she had concluded that “during the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concerns. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.

At an inquest last year, Hassell said O’Sullivan had been suffering from long-term anxiety and depression, “but the intense anxiety which triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the Department of Work and Pensions as being fit for work and his view of the likely consequences of that”.

Earlier this week Black Triangle campaigners urged the GMC, which helps to protect patients, to “step into the breach” over O’Sullivan’s death and the way disabled patients were being treated by the Conservative Government’s welfare regime.

The Atos Healthcare-employed doctor assessing O’Sullivan for the DWP, a former orthopaedic surgeon, had not taken the same view as other doctors treating him that he was not fit for work. Black Triangle said it was “incumbent” upon the GMC to look into the case despite no name being released in the documentation.

However, a GMC spokeswoman said: “If we don’t have a name then we cannot investigate.”

And she added that even if the council was investigating the doctor, it could not confirm this for legal reasons.

John McArdle of Black Triangle said the GMC’s chairman Professor Terrence Stephenson should be “summoned” before the Scottish Parliament’s health and reform committee for questioning.

He added: “I hope Scottish ministers will recognise and condemn the GMC’s failure now and in the past to conduct transparent investigations and lack of public accountability.

“Justice is being denied to disabled people by the GMC as it currently stands.

“We would like to see Professor Terrence Stephenson summoned before the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Welfare Reform committees for questioning and if the GMC is not fit for purpose the Scottish Government must act.

“Since health is a devolved matter, I see no reason why the Scottish Government shouldn’t launch an immediate inquiry into the conduct of this ‘regulator’ in Scotland and its abject failure to protect patients from the abuses of our fundamental human and patients’ rights by doctors working for DWP-Maximus. Furthermore, it is within the competence of the Scottish Government to replace the GMC as regulator of the profession with a Scottish Government quasi-judicial medical investigatory and regulatory body set up under the Scottish Minister for Justice’s department.

“The GMC is utterly negligent and unfit for purpose. It seems only to exist to support its bureaucratic infrastructure and fat salaries. It seems to persecute innocent doctors and let grossly negligent ones get away with murder. What this effectively means is that DWP Atos now Maximus doctors are really not properly regulated and neither are the assessment centres. This in itself is scandalous.”

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