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McCausland welcomes visit by Work Capability Assessment Independent Reviewer

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has welcomed a two day visit to Northern Ireland by the Work Capability Assessment Independent Reviewer, Dr Paul Litchfield.
Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Commenting on the visit the Minister said: “I am pleased to be meeting Dr Litchfield during his visit to Northern Ireland to discuss the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Whilst some significant improvements have already been made to the WCA in recent years, I believe there is still room for improvements. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to discuss with Dr Litchfield how we can further tailor the WCA to ensure it best reflects the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Dr Litchfield, a senior occupational physician, is carrying out the fourth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment. The recently completed publication – 'A Call for Evidence: Year 4 Independent Review', provided an opportunity for all interested groups and individuals across Northern Ireland to have their say on the Work Capability Assessment. There were 48 responses to the Year 4 Independent Review in Northern Ireland.

Dr Litchfield is visiting Northern Ireland to meet with interested parties in order to help inform his findings. During his visit, Dr Litchfield will meet with members of the Social Development Committee, community representative groups, Healthcare professionals and Social Security Agency staff.

Dr Paul Litchfield said: “This fourth review is an appropriate time to review the impact of the changes that have been made to the WCA in recent years, including those recommended by my predecessor Professor Malcolm Harrington. I will also be considering if more can be done to ensure that the assessment process is both effective and perceived as being objective by all stakeholders.

“I am keen to hear from people who have constructive and evidence based ideas for improvement. The WCA touches many lives and it is in the interest of all of us to try and make it as good as we can.”

Dr Litchfield’s fields of expertise include mental illness and the impact it can have on work prospects. Since 2001, he has worked for BT as Chief Medical Officer and Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing. As a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council, he has also played a key role in raising the profile of the economic impact of chronic disease.

Minister McCausland continued: “While the written responses received from the recent public call for evidence provide valuable feedback, meeting with elected representatives, community representative groups and staff will give Dr Litchfield a personal understanding of our particular needs. I therefore very much look forward to receiving Dr Litchfield’s findings later in the year.”

Notes to editors:

  1. Previous reviews were undertaken by Professor Harrington who has acknowledged the strenuous efforts already made by the Social Security Agency to improve the so called ‘claimant journey’ and he notes that “real progress” has been made to implement his recommendations. To date all recommendations relevant to the Social Security Agency contained within his first report have been implemented along with 20 of the 23 recommendations from his second report.
  2. Changes to the Work Capability Assessment process include:
    ·  Improvements to the forms issued to claimants to make them clearer, less threatening, and to more fully explain the process;
    ·  Amending the medical questionnaire (ESA50) to enable claimants to express the issues they face with a personalised justification;
    ·  The production of a Customer Charter by Atos;
    ·  Changes to descriptors for claimants who are awaiting, receiving, or recovering from any form of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer;
    ·  The introduction of Mental Function Champions; and
    ·  The introduction of the pre-decision call whereby Decision Makers attempt to contact claimants by telephone to offer them the opportunity to provide further evidence before making their final decision.
  3. Biography - Dr Paul Litchfield, OBE OStJ FRCP FFOM. Paul Litchfield is Chief Medical Officer for BT Group plc and joined the company in 2001 having held senior posts in occupational medicine in both the public and private sectors. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine for which he is currently Chair of the Ethics Committee. In 2007 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to occupational health and he is presently a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on health and wellbeing as well as being a project board member of the Wellness Alliance.
  4. Dr Litchfield has been active in the field of occupational health for some 30 years and since joining BT has created a comprehensive support framework for people with long term and fluctuating conditions. He has interacted with a number of Government departments on workplace health and in 2009 was co-author of the DWP sponsored independent review “Realising ambitions: Better employment support for people with a mental health condition”. He was lead author of the European Telecommunications sector guidelines on improving mental health published in 2010 and he is currently engaged with the European Commission on the impact of the economic downturn on workers’ health. Paul has published and lectured widely on workplace wellness, occupational mental health, sickness absence, hazard control, service delivery models and ethics in occupational health.
  5. Media enquiries to DSD Communications Team on 028 9082 9496 or email press.office@dsdni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.