The DWP have made a mockery of the death of Michael O’Sullivan and made further claimant deaths more likely by not spending £5 on writing a life-saving memo, even after telling a coroner they would do so. Their failure is a clear indication of the way in which the DWP now believe they can never be held to account for the deaths of claimants.{jcomments on}

Image of five pound noteMichael O’Sullivan
Claimant Michael O’Sullivan committed suicide in September 2013. He had been suffering from anxiety and depression for a number of years.

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 their response to the coroner, the DWP admitted that the health professional who assessed Mr O’Sullivan had failed to follow clear guidance on dealing with claimants with suicidal ideation.

The very last words in their response were that they would “issue a reminder to staff about the guidance related to suicidal ideation that has been described in this report."

Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information request asking for copies of the reminder issued. And details of when and to whom it was sent

A year too late
The DWP’s reply was to direct us to a previous answer they gave last month, in which they stated:

“We regularly review and remind staff of current guidance as well as any changes. A copy of the latest guidance issued to healthcare professionals in February 2015 can be found here .”

The link is to the 210 page Work Capability Assessment Handbook issued to health professionals. The latest edition, which includes changes to information about suicidal ideation, was not published until a year after the coroners report.

But this updated Handbook can in no way be seen to meet the coroners’ urgent request that the DWP act to prevent future deaths.

In addition, there had been a previous edition of the same Handbook published in June 2014, five months after the coroner’s report was sent to the DWP. It contained no additional information or reminders about suicidal ideation whatsoever.

Not worth a fiver
The reality is that the DWP could have sent a memo to Atos, asking them to remind all their health professionals about the vital importance of following guidance on suicidal ideation. Atos could then have circulated that to their assessors.

It would have taken a senior DWP manager no more than 10 minutes to send such a memo. Senior DWP staff earn around £50,000 - £60,000 a year.

So, sending the life-saving memo would have cost the DWP no more than about £5.

But they never did it.

And now they are doing their best to cover-up that fact.

The DWP’s callousness makes a nonsense of the claim by ministers, and the prime minister himself, that the government takes such deaths very seriously.

It also makes a mockery of the coroner’s inquest procedure and of the anguish of Mr O’Sullivan’s family.

The truth is that the DWP’s utter lack of accountability makes it all too likely that similar tragedies will go on happening until the day someone at the DWP, or one of the companies it employs, faces a charge of manslaughter.

For many claimants, that day cannot come too soon.

Benefits and Work will not accept the DWP’s response to its Freedom of Information request. We believe that the correct answer to our request should have been ‘We cannot provide you with the documents you requested because no such documents exist.’

And we will take this matter to a tribunal if necessary, to get the DWP to admit the truth.


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