The Tribunals Service is working towards an online appeal system in which appeals hearings could last for weeks, according to Judge John Aitken, president of the social entitlement chamber which deals with benefits appeals.
The revelation came in a series of email exchanges between a Benefits and Work member and the Tribunals Service.
Our member is challenging the practice of the Tribunals Service of allowing GPs who are registered, but who no longer have a licence to practice, to sit on appeal tribunal panels.
GPs, who are often retired, sit as medical members on tribunals for appeals dealing with benefits including ESA, PIP and DLA.
Our member has had to appeal their ESA decision repeatedly and, on each occasion, has discovered that the doctor on the panel did not hold a licence to practice.
The law allows a ‘registered medical practitioner’ to sit on First-tier and Upper Tribunal panels. The Tribunals Service believes that there is no requirement for such a person to also hold a licence to practice.
They argue that:
“The assessment of appellants is carried out as part of the process of the Tribunal reaching its decision and is not medical practice; there is no diagnosis, prescription of prescribed drugs or delivery of treatment.”
Our member, however, points out that the General Medical Council website includes a detailed guide to The privileges and duties of doctors: UK statutes. The introductory page plainly states:
“Please be aware that, in this context, the terms used to refer to a ‘doctor’ or ‘practitioner’, and in particular, the term ‘registered medical practitioner’, all refer to a doctor who is registered with a licence to practise with the GMC.”
The GMC guide includes sitting on benefits tribunals as one of the privileges that only a registered medical practitioner is allowed.
One of the concerns about allowing GPs without a licence to practise to sit on tribunals is that they are not required to undertake regular training, continuing professional development, in the way that practising doctors are. GPs are required to undertake 50 hours of CPD a year in an effort to ensure that their knowledge remains up-to-date.
Doctors who do not undertake CPD may have very outdated beliefs about many conditions, which may be especially problematic for claimants with conditions such as ME, fibromyalgia or a range of mental health issues.
The correspondence with our member has reached all the way to the top, with a contribution from Social Entitlement President Judge Aitken.
In the course of this correspondence, Judge Aitken revealed that the Tribunals Service is planning to make the appeals process much more “user friendly” by having appeals conducted online over a period of weeks.
The Tribunals Service believes that this will leave claimants feeling less apprehensive and give them the opportunity to raise all the points they wish to, as well as meaning that no travelling will be requited.
The judge acknowledged that many people will need help to use an online system but believes that the experience need be “no more intimidating than shopping online”.
Our member is continuing their battle against the use of GPs without a licence to practice. Meanwhile, we’d be interested to know what you think about the idea of online appeal hearings.