Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Medical Examination

So, Disability Living Allowance, also known as DLA and a great source of both help and stress. To recap, this is the money given to disabled people regardless of income or work status, to help meet some of the unavoidable extra costs associated with disability, from wheelchairs to incontinence pads to home delivery fees to Meals On Wheels. It's split into Care and Mobility components, awarded at different levels depending on the extent of difficulty you have with each of these aspects.

Now, a quick timeline. I applied for DLA again in February 2008. I was turned down and asked for an appeal. This took until October 2008 to arrange. I won and a backdated award was made, for two years starting from February 2008 when I had first applied. So the award expires in February 2010.

As such, I got a renewal pack in October 2009 - they give you plenty of time so that you have a chance to access support from the Citizen's Advice Bureau or similar organisations. In November I sent off the completed renewal pack, including:
  • Their 40-page form, completed with the basic and general answers.

  • A typed 26-page document giving the more detailed answers they ask you to provide to their questions, including information about good and bad days, equipment I use and how I use it, support I receive and so on, because these answers just don't fit into answer-spaces the size of a credit card on the form.

  • A copy of my current medication and equipment prescriptions.

  • A copy of my Social Services care plan and contact details for my social worker, occupational therapist, GP, Access to Work adviser and everyone else associated with my disability needs.

  • A statement from Steve as someone who lives with me.

  • A statement from my PA as a person who is paid to look after me.

  • A medical report from the ME/CFS specialist who formally assessed and diagnosed me.

In addition they will have written to my GP for her opinion, and she will have written back in support of my application, just like she did last time.

But they say that they "do not have enough information."

They want me to be examined by a doctor from ATOS healthcare next week.

I'm not entirely sure what that doctor is supposed to discover in his 20-60 minute session that has not already been provided in my own testimony and corroborated by several different types of person associated with my care. Especially considering that there are no easy or visible diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. It's not like counting the limbs of someone who claimed on their form to have had two legs amputated and going "yep, looks like you are right after all". Variable and invisible conditions are a little more complicated.

He will be coming to my house, so I have a glimmer of hope that he just wants to check that I do have the assistive devices I claimed to use and that they're not covered in dust, that my to-do list doesn't include renewing my subscription to Hill Walker Weekly, and that I say "ow" often enough.

But even though I tell myself this... even though I know I successfully appealed once and can do it again if I have to... even though I know I have not lied on my forms... even though I know the doctor will get paid regardless of what he says about me... I've known a few too many people with a few too many horror stories about medical examinations for benefits purposes, up to and including doctors getting a claimant's condition wrong, writing down things they had not asked about and could not possibly have observed, bullying claimants into signing blank forms, and in one memorable instance, ticking the wrong gender box.

I think it's like when people are pregnant, and everyone comes forward with the stories of six weeks of labour, of a hundred stitches inside and out, of the midwife being busy and the cleaner having to do an emergency C-section using only a biro... and even though you know it probably won't happen to you, it preys on your mind. What I could do with right now, if anyone has the time, is a few comments saying "I had an ATOS medical examination, it wasn't a problem, the doctor was on time, he was nice, he listened to what I said before writing it down, let me take my time, and a few weeks later I was given an indefinite award at what I feel was the correct level."

Please?

10 comments:

porillion said...

Hi, Mary,

I've had two medical exams for my IB claim to date. (I'm expecting another fairly soon.) Both of them were painless events, though I had prepared well and well in advance. I cannot recommend benefitsandwork.co.uk enough for their advice on this.

The first time I went, the doctor immediately said to the effect of "well, clearly you cannot possibly work with this illness." He asked me a few questions as compelled to do, then said "I have five more minutes. What shall we talk about?" Though you shouldn't be fooled into thinking that he may not assess what you do actually talk about, he seemed genuinely to be killing time. But like a job interview - assume you're being assessed from the moment you arrie to the moment you leave.

On the second occasion, the doctor was more formal and went through a list of questions on her computer. But then at the end she said that next time I should think about asking my GP or specialist for a copy of any reports asked for.

On both occasions I 'passed'.

I've not read DLA, but IB has a list of set questions for the doctor to ask. Benefitsandwork provide both the original data, and their guides based on it on how to make sure you are answering the questions honestly in a way that gets your case across. They also suggest things like getting copies of the doctor's report, and making sure to keep your GP up-to-date at all times.

As long as your claim is genuine (and I have no doubt your is), and you prepare, in my experience the whole thing is painless. I hope and expect this will be your experience too.

Say "hi" to "Jiva" for me next time you see Clare!

Take care.

Serena said...

I had a medical for DLA, a few years ago, and can pretty much give exactly the report you asked for!

Like you, I'd had to appeal to get my award a couple of years earlier and then the next time around I had to have a medical.

As far as I recall, the doctor was on time, he was perfectly pleasant but he did give the impression that he was in a hurry and was trying to rush through the forms as fast as he could. He had obviously read all my notes beforehand and clearly knew what answers to expect - luckily he was right about most of them, because it was quite difficult to stop him and get him to listen on those occasions when he hadn't worked it out correctly!

He did tell me, during the interview, that he didn't think there would be any problem with my claim though and, a couple of weeks later I received an indefinite award - at the right level.

I did have someone with me, which was helpful, especially when I was having difficulty explaining what I meant - I also got her to fetch some papers that I needed from another room, rather than doing it myself (thus reducing the risk of being reported to have "jumped up" and "run to get them"!). It's also meant that she could have acted as a witness if he had turned out to be one of the horror stories!

Becca said...

I did indeed have an examination for my first DLA application some years back, and the doctor was indeed polite and respectful, agreed with my opinion about which award I should receive, and while she didn't give me an indefinite award it was in every other way an entirely positive and painless experience - much more so than any interaction with my GP at the time!

Suggestions:
Like Serena said, have somebody there - and make use of their support. In particular don't answer the door yourself.
If you have a wheelchair or specialist supportive seating, sit in it - even if you wouldn't usually.
Tell them openly which rates you qualify for and why. Have a letter or 2 on hand to show if they asked - mine didn't even want to read it, just confirm that I did have ongoing medical contact.

Best of luck!

Becca

Anonymous said...

Benefits !, Benefits !, Benefits!, Claims!, Claims!, Claims!...

Mary said...

NURSE!

(thanks guys.)

Heather said...

"I had an ATOS medical examination, it wasn't a problem, the doctor was on time, he was nice, he listened to what I said before writing it down, let me take my time, and a few weeks later I was given an indefinite award at what I feel was the correct level."

No, really, i did.

I applied in 1997 when I was first ill, and had to go all the way to a tribunal for a 2-year award. Same thing the next time. The third time it went through 'on the nod', so I was surprised this time that I had to have an ATOS medical. I'd had awful doctors fopr the first two claims and was VERY apprehensive.

The chap was lovely, made it clear that DLA are re-checking everyone, to tighten up on fraud, and was quite clear from the outset that he thought I was really ill. In fact, he recommended I see a physio to get a Zimmer instead of the stick I use indoors between bedroom and bathroom.

I got an indefinite award, both components at the highest rate.

I hope yours goes as well as mine - you seem very prepared. Do have someone with you - and do try not to worry. Easier said that done, I know!

Mary said...

My new PA is going to be present, which is a weight off my mind. I did ask the person from the welfare rights org who is supposedly "helping" with my application (help so far consisting of looking at my answers and saying "yep, that should do,") but she felt that her presence would antagonise the doctor.

rachelcreative said...

Wanted to say thanks to all those who have commented with positive experiences. I'm awaiting a decision on my DLA renewal after getting it successfully 2 years ago without a medical or appeal.

Now I'm mentally preparing myself for them to refer for a medical.

Some good advice and re-assurance here sdo thanks.

Miss Ben E Fit said...

"I think it's like when people are pregnant, and everyone comes forward with the stories of six weeks of labour, of a hundred stitches inside and out, of the midwife being busy and the cleaner having to do an emergency C-section using only a biro... and even though you know it probably won't happen to you, it preys on your mind."

May I copy and paste the above on my site? Very funny but also very true!

Mary said...

By all means :)