A coroner has ruled that a finding that a claimant was fit for work was the ‘trigger’ for his suicide six months later, Disability News Service has discovered. The uncovering of the coroner's report and the DWP's response, which was written last year, casts doubt on the honesty of the DWP's claims that it is not possible to link claimant's deaths to welfare reform.
Fit for work was trigger
Michael O’Sullivan committed suicide in September 2013. He had been suffering from anxiety and depression for a number of years and had previously been in receipt of incapacity benefit.
Following the inquest into his death in January 2014, the coroner issued a Regulation 28 report which is designed to prevent future deaths occurring in similar circumstances.
In the report the coroner stated that:
“I found that the trigger for Mr O ’Sullivan’s suicide was his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work .”
The Coroner went on to say that:
“During the course of the inquest , the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion , there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken . In the circumstances , it is my statutory duty to report to you [the DWP]. “
The matters of concern which the coroner set out were:.
“The DWP assessing doctor (who saw Mr O ’ Sullivan for a 90 minute consultation) did not take into account the views of any of Mr O’ Sullivan’s treating doctors, saying that the ultimate decision maker would do that.
“However, the ultimate decision maker (who is not , I understand, medically qualified) did not request and so did not see any reports or letters from Mr O’Sullivan’s general practitioner (who had assessed him as being unfit for work), his psychiatrist or his clinical psychologist.”
The DWP were given 56 days to respond, setting out what action they would take to prevent similar deaths
According to the Disability News Service the Atos health practitioner who examined Mr O’Sullivan was a former orthopaedic surgeon.
In their response the DWP claimed that there was a clear policy that further medical evidence should be sought where a claimant mentioned suicidal thoughts in their claim form, but that policy had not been followed in this case.
The DWP said they would issue a reminder to staff, but nothing more than that.
It is worth remembering at this point that the DWP have repeatedly claimed, both in the run up to the election and since, that it is not possible to make any causal link between the deaths of claimants and welfare reform.
Yet, they were very clearly aware last year that a coroner had found that a claimant who had undergone the transfer from incapacity benefit to ESA and been found fit for work had committed suicide as a direct result of that decision.
As a reminder, this is the Guardian’s account of how Iain Duncan Smith exploded with self-righteous rage when the Green’s Jonathan Bartley quizzed him about suicides linked to welfare reform.
“That’s just scurrilous. You make an allegation and you can not stand that up and I simply say to you be very careful. You say you’re a Christian, be very careful what you say about people’s motivations. . . what I’m telling you now is what we absolutely know is you can not make allegations about individual cases, in tragic cases where obviously things go badly wrong and suddenly say this is directly as a result of Government policy. I totally reject that. What a scurrilous point to make. I think what you said is cheap.”
You can download the coroner’s report from this link - WARNING, it contains details of the manner of death