Bristol charity's campaign leads to benefit claims change

Medication - generic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bristol Law Centre said its research showed assessors judged benefit claims on the strength of medication

A campaign led by a local charity has led to the government changing guidance on the assessment of benefit claims.

Bristol Law Centre (BLC) said claims were being determined on the strength of painkillers being taken.

It said existing guidelines led to claimants asking for stronger, potentially harmful, opioid medicines.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had updated its Personal Independence Payment (PIP) guidance "in line with expert medical opinion".

The Disability Benefits Consortium backed the two-year campaign for more than a year to press the government for a change in its guidance.

BLC said its study showed assessors "routinely assumed" claimants were not in severe pain unless they were being prescribed powerful, opioid painkillers.

Dr Cathy Stannard, an NHS pain medicine specialist from Bristol, said GPs largely avoided prescribing strong painkillers in the long-term, as the harms usually outweighed the benefits.

However, "assessors fail to recognise" this and "penalise" patients following medical advice from their GPs to reduce opioids and other strong painkillers, she said.

'Hugely demeaning'

Andy King, Bristol Law Centre's benefits advisor, said thousands of claims for disability benefits were refused because of an overreliance on analgesics as a guide to pain levels.

He said it sent the wrong signal to claimants and encouraged them to ask GPs for stronger pain relief.

"It is hugely demeaning to be told that your pain isn't significant and there is an enormous cost to the taxpayer of so many appeals, most of which are successful," he said.

The DWP said its guidance now made it clear the dosage of painkillers was not necessarily indicative of the severity of people's medical conditions.

A spokesperson said: "The type and level of medication is just one of a number of factors taken into account when carrying out an assessment, which considers all aspects affecting a person's functional ability."

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