HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc8-9
4. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

How many complaints were recorded against doctors carrying out home visits to assess people receiving disability benefits in (a) 1981, (b) 1991 and (c) 2001. [73062]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

No data are held about complaints for the period before the contract for medical services was let in September 1998. However, in 2001 there were 1,665 complaints out of a total of 236,028 home visits carried out by medical services doctors.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he consider how complaints against doctors who visit people on disability benefits are dealt with, given that at the moment it is the doctor's word against the word of the person who has been interviewed? When, as often happens, the two stories do not coincide, the doctor's word is taken against that of the person on benefit. How many of those complaints were found to be justified?

Mr. Brown

I am afraid that I do not have an immediate figure for how many complaints were justified. It will not always be the case that the complainant is right and the doctor is wrong, or the other way around. The fact is that two people may see such exchanges from different points of view. If my hon. Friend has a specific case in mind that he wants to draw to my attention, I shall be happy to consider it. However, people approach those vexed questions on the basis of different circumstances and have different views accordingly.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

Does the Minister not think that it would be appropriate for doctors to examine people physically rather than simply discussing how far they can walk and how much weight they can lift? That would ensure that there was objective information on which a decision to remove benefit could be based before such terrible decisions were imposed on vulnerable people who have no defence against a doctor's word.

Mr. Brown

The doctor's assessment informs the decision maker. It is a medical gateway, but doctors do not make the decisions themselves. I have no reason to believe that there is a case for making the changes that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of our constituents unfairly have their disability benefit removed? Do doctors follow a quota that is recommended by the Government? If not, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should examine the system as it is at present?

Mr. Brown

If people believe that the system has treated them unfairly, there is an appeals mechanism that they can use. Indeed, many cases succeed on appeal.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Does the Minister know that constituents of mine who receive incapacity benefit had to go all the way from King's Lynn to Norwich to undergo a fitness-for-work test? Would it not be easier if the test took place in King's Lynn? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the journey time from King's Lynn to Norwich by public transport is longer than the recommended 90 minutes? Will he please examine that matter?

Mr. Brown

I shall examine the hon. Gentleman's specific point. However, many assessments are carried out through home visits; not everybody has to travel.