The DWP denied benefits to someone with 16 illnesses. We now need your help.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the UK’s social security agency that is supposed to support disabled people, just denied full benefits to a chronically ill and disabled person who lives with 16 different diseases, illnesses and conditions.

The decision shows the abject failure of government outsourcing. But it also demonstrates the callous and incompetent nature of the welfare system.

UPDATE: we urgently need to raise £1,500 to begin with to be able to continue Nicola’s treatment, otherwise everything will have to stop. This is unthinkable for me. If you can please help, donate via http://www.paypal.me/MrTopple

16 illnesses and counting

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a welfare entitlement from the DWP. Is it intended to help towards the additional costs disabled and sick people have due to their conditions.

My partner Nicola Jeffery is one such person. You can read all about her medical story here. In short, she lives with:

Oh, and possible Secondary Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. We’re still looking into that.

Nicola has deteriorated. The CCI and AAI are becoming severe and dangerous. She had a seizure a few week’s ago which caused a fluid leak from her brain. She has brain stem compression. Now, she often cannot leave the house without a wheelchair, as she is too weak:

ECLg55oX4AAOsUM.jpg

I gave up work full time to support Nicola. You can read more about that decision here. Since then, we have accumulated probably the best clinical evidence of her illnesses available in the UK. I’d put my neck on the line to say most people have not got the extent of a diagnostic picture she has.

A financial black hole

It has cost a small fortune from my mother’s life savings, and we are now having to fund raise to get further treatment. We are having to fund raise for her seizures, like the one below:

This is because the NHS will only recognise them as “functional/dissociative” or “psychomatic”, even though I have hard clinical evidence that proves otherwise.

Now, we are also having to try and raise the money to continue her treatment.

She is currently under the care of one of the only doctors in the UK that attempts to properly treat ME. She has been on a programme for several months. But now, if we don’t raise £1,500 quickly, this will have to be stopped dead in its tracks, and all the progress she has made so far will be undone. This is terrifying.

We also have to begin the process of potential surgery in Spain. Why Spain? Because the NHS doesn’t recognise the CCI or AAI, therefore there are no treatment options available.

This surgery will cost anywhere between £60,000-£200,000, depending on the extent of what Nic has to have done. This will be a separate fundraiser.

To do this, we have to have more non-NHS tests done, like a 3D CT of her cervical spine, MR angio/venogram, cineradiography flexion/extension and CT of her lower spine to check for tethered cord syndrome. This will be around £1,200 plus consultation/interpretation fees. Then we will need to travel to Barcelona for a face-to-face consultation with the surgeon. The cost of the appointment is around €300 plus travel costs.

We also need to have her genetic testing for Ehlers-Danlos done. This is because there is now a question mark over her subtype. Ultimately, we want Nicola to be tested to her son can then get the diagnoses he needs. This means he won’t have to endure the years of being told his symptoms (some of which he already has) are not ‘all in his head’. We don’t want him to suffer in the same way Nicola has. This will be £2,000 each.

You can read about our fundraising here, and if you can help with the £1,500 for the ME treatment, or the £8,000 for the EDS-related work, please donate via this link:

http://www.paypal.me/MrTopple

She is house bound for 85% of the time. When she does go out, she has to build up to it. Afterwards, she is incapacitated for several days. This is just one aspect of her health. The implications of all her conditions are extensive and systemic, affecting every part of her body.

Going back to the DWP

So, she applied for PIP. We submitted several doctor’s reports, a complete diary of Nicola’s life for the entire month of May, her complex treatment regime and more.

After a PIP assessment where the assessor let a fire door slam onto Nicola, almost knocking her over and injuring her hip, we got this decision:

Nic PIP.jpg

As is usual, the assessor appeared kind and understanding, which we know is never a gauge of the outcome.

I wasn’t expecting the DWP to award Nicola higher rate for both without a fight. But I was expecting standard rate mobility and possibly higher rate for daily living. To say I was furious wouldn’t do my anger justice.

Let me break the DWP’s decision down for you using one area as an example. We have clinical evidence to back up every single claim I make below.

Full time caring? Not according to the DWP

Around four hours of my day is spent preparing Nicola’s complex medication regime and cooking. The former consists of 26 different supplements and pharmaceutical medications, administered at six different points across the day.

This is what she takes in the morning:

_20190719_100357.JPG

The latter consists of a controlled carbohydrate and sugar free diet, where every ingredient has to be measured and the calorie (kcal) content calculated.

Nicola has dysphagia, which means she has difficulty swallowing and can be at risk of choking. She also has impaired cognitive function, meaning she cannot remember what she is taking when. Her impaired cognitive function means she struggles to follow written instructions for something with this level of complexity.

In her May diary, we noted that she attempted to cook a meal once. She struggled to remember the quantities of ingredients and was left exhausted and distressed after trying.

All the supplements, medications and the diet serve various functions to try and improve Nicola’s health; specifically with her ME and hEDS.

To be clear: this is not our medication and diet plan. It’s not a “lifestyle choice”. This is from one of Nicola’s private, General Medical Council (GMC) registered doctors. We also have written evidence of this plan being approved by three NHS, GMC-registered consultants.

The DWP’s score for Nicola on “managing your treatments” was 1 point, the minimum.

The reality? She should have scored 8, as I have to spend more than 14 hours a week preparing and administering it. I also have to “monitor” her “health condition” by taking five blood pressure, heart rate and temperature readings across the day. This is because some of the medication she is on results in changes to these. I also have to “monitor” her “health condition” by documenting her symptoms and being proactive when she has, for example, a Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM) crash, as this requires additional support and medication.

The DWP did not recognise any of this. It was the same story on most of the other descriptors. I won’t go into them as this article will turn into an essay.

But it’s the mobility decision that is the most infuriating.

Mobility chaos

The DWP did not believe that Nicola’s uncontrolled, random seizures warranted me having to support her to make familiar and unfamiliar journeys. Even though I have witnessed her having them in the street, and also at any time of the day. It did not equate that if she did have a seizure, on her own, in the street, and collapsed she would be at serious risk of neck injury owing to her CCI and AAI. Nor did it intersect this with the fact that Nicola can only attempt to go out one day a week.

It didn’t equate for the fact that Nicola cannot risk using public transport anymore due to, again, the risk of injury to her neck. Nor did it equate for Nicola not being able to use public transport anymore due to the risk of infection due to her weakened immune system. It didn’t equate for Nicola having an anaerobic threshold of four metabolic equivalents (METs), meaning she cannot do any exertion which takes her over this. Walking the 0.8km to our train station would be this. Going to and from a bus would use up part of those four METs.

The DWP didn’t take into account that Nicola can no longer plan and go on an unfamiliar route unaided, due to her cognitive impairment leaving her at risk of getting lost. Nor did the DWP take into account that Nicola forgot her parents address recently. They live 30 seconds walk away from us.

A whitewash

Overall, the assessment was a whitewash of the severity of Nicola’s health. The assessor even had the audacity to say that she was “not diagnosed with any cognitive conditions”. Even though ME, hEDS, CCI and AAI all effect cognitive function, as stated in the literature available.

As a side note, the assessor also said:

You are not taking any medications to treat your symptoms of nausea and vomiting and there is no evidence to suggest these symptoms in your plan.

The second part is firstly a lie, as the evidence was there in Nicola’s diary. The first statement about medication shows the incompetence of the assessor and the DWP. Nicola is taking adrenal hormone replacements which, in part, her doctor has prescribed to attempt to improve her digestive transit, thus improving her gastroparesis.

Back in 2016…

What sticks in the throat even more is that Nicola is getting the exact same PIP award as she was previously getting in 2016. That is, standard rate daily living component. This is despite at that time only living with an incorrect fibromyalgia diagnosis. But moreover, this is despite a severe deterioration in her health, which I have fully documented. It shows a systematic failure by the DWP to ensure health assessment providers comply with working from the standardised guidelines. Or the department has built in this fault in the system to ensure the muddying of waters when it comes to a level playing field for claimants across the board; with the goal of saving money. It’s probably a bit of both.

The decision also shows the preposterous contradiction that sits at the heart of the DWP.

Toxic contradictions

We are bombarded with this constant narrative of ‘scroungers’, ‘shirkers’, ‘benefits cheats’ and the notion that the government wants disabled people to get back to work.

Yet if you buy into that distinctly capitalist mantra, Nicola’s decision goes against this. Surely the DWP wants to support her to live independently and to get back to work? But by denying her entitlements it’s stopping her health improving. And ultimately, it is stopping her finding a job.

So, which is it?

Neither. Apparently the corporate-driven push to force as many sick and disabled people into work doesn’t apply to complex chronic illnesses. Nor does the notion of the state providing support when life metes out its worst at you, apply either.

Complex chronically ill people, often living with ME and EDS, are literally being left to rot. In Nicola’s and other’s cases, it is partly because the system and specifically the NHS does not even recognise her conditions. The assessor didn’t even know what several of them were. It is also because the PIP criteria is essentially incompatible with these kind of conditions.

Their carers and advocates are also left on the scrapheap. They are left scrabbling around, begging and borrowing, desperately trying to garner some minuscule quality of life for their loved ones. The same DWP contradiction applies here, too. I cannot work full time and therefore contribute tax while Nicola is so ill. Yet by denying her full PIP I cannot get state support either.

Lives, wasted

Two lives. Literally being wasted.

And for what? To save money on a welfare budget [pdf] that makes up around 2% of the UK’s total gross domestic product? We and millions of others are literally paying the price for economic illiteracy, personal incompetence and ultimately nefarious greed. But of course, the system is such it’s supposed to be like this.

Overall, Nicola is housebound the majority of the time. Her son has had to move into his dad’s due to the severity of her illnesses and our attempts to improve her health. She is left:

  • Unable to cook.
  • Unable to clean.
  • Unable to write more than a few sentences.
  • Unable to have visitors for longer than two hours.
  • Unable to use social media for long periods of time.
  • Unable to read more than a few pages of a book.
  • Unable to have sex.
  • Unable to eat properly.
  • Unable to have proper bowel movements.
  • Unable to shower daily and properly.
  • Unable to live any kind of life.

If she does any of the above, her health deteriorates.

And still, all this is worth £57.30 a week to the DWP.

Out of options?

We are now left with a Mandatory Reconsideration, and most likely an appeal. Moreover, we are also left with hardly any financial support.

But most of all Nicola, who was for years told her 16 illnesses were ‘all in her head’, is left feeling disbelieved, isolated and abandoned. Again. Like she has for most of her adult life, not least by her family, some of whom still disbelieve her to this day.

All this just so the DWP can save a few pounds and force people back into work. Our society is truly broken.

I want to give her some quality of life back, despite what the DWP thinks. But I need your help to do it. Please donate what you can below.
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7 comments

  1. Gemma Pickering · July 19

    My heart breaks for anyone having to go through the traumatic, frustrating and frequently devastating process that is applying for any of the benefits aimed at supporting those with disabilities and chronic illnesses etc, whether that’s ESA, PIP or DLA or UC or whatever’s available in each area as they keep making such big changes. I don’t think it’s even possible to describe the constant stress involved in being entirely reliant on a benefit that can be removed at any time and for pretty much any reason they fancy, there is no security in living like that. Then to make it worse, there is the humiliating process of having to keep reapplying or being called in to be reassessed at any moment and all the stress involved in reassembling medical evidence and filling out really difficult questionnaires that are mostly ignored anyway.

    I have, in a way, been rather lucky with my applications for ESA, I was first approved for ESA and put straight into the Support Group with no face to face assessment, I had no idea how long I had got the award for but turned out to be about 3 years but I was on tenterhooks the entire time. I was eventually called in for a face to face assessment and I was beyond petrified, I had pretty much photocopied every single letter I had from the NHS because I didn’t have any particularly good medical reports, they barely fit in the envelope! I didn’t hold back at all in answering the questions, they got the brutal and ugly truth of my life! The assessment was a horrible experience and required me to walk way further than I should have done because I didn’t have anyone to drop outside the assessment centre… I have no support at all and no carer of any kind, my parents (begrudgingly) allow me to live under their roof and in return I have to accept all the grief they give me… though eviction is on the cards soon. Anyway, the lady doing the assessment was really lovely but still quite brusque about everything although I got the feeling she was rushed off here feet and the waiting room was busy. She was nice enough though and all we did was go over a couple of questions to clarify my answers and she asked a few questions about how I got to the assessment centre etc, she then said there was meant to be a physical component to the assessment but she had decided it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask me to carry out the physical assessment given my health problems and that I still had to walk a good distance afterwards. I was so astonished I probably looked like a fish out of water! But she let me go on my way, 40 minutes in the waiting room and less than 10 minutes being assessed! I got the results pretty quickly that they were going to change nothing and I could stay in the support group.

    I was astonished to be given any support at all without a real fight on my hands, I feel almost guilty about criticising the DWP when really, I haven’t had the worst experience… but I am so so aware of the many who have difficulties with them all the time, especially those with chronic illnesses and diseases that the NHS either don’t believe exists or the massively underestimate the effects of on people’s lives. For me, on the physical health side of things, the main problems are: ME(moderate/severe), Chronic Widespread Pain or Fibromyalgia,
    Hypermobility Syndrome (I am convinced is hEDS but the rheumatologist on the NHS told be the only way to know would be genetic testing and I don’t have heart issues… I already know hEDS doesn’t have a genetic cause and doesn’t require there to be heart issues in order for a diagnosis… so basically the rheumatologist was an idiot.. I do also have very elasticated skin and scar really easily).
    I have various other health problems like PCOS and as a result PreDiabetes, Hypothyroidism, Migraines, Reynauds Syndrome (ME symptom), Chronic variable sleep problems (my insomnia cycles and worst has be 19 days on less than an hours sleep average a night.. I was hallucinating and a wreck by then! Also when I do sleep it is incredibly disturbed by nightmares and thrashing about and getting up hourly to go to the loo sometimes. And on the rare occasions I do get proper deep sleep… thanks again to ME it is Non Restorative sleep and I wake up just as exhausted if not more so!). I am also dubious about all my pain related diagnoses because the NHS didn’t really look into anything, the did basic (unreliable) blood tests and when they didn’t point to anything I just got labeled with their favourite catch all terms for ‘Its Pain, we just don’t know how or why or what to do about it’ and same for the fatigue although I do believe the
    ME diagnosis. My pain isn’t particularly neuropathic and none of the neuropathic pain relief worked in the slightest… I personally think it might Psoriatic Arthritis but what do I know, I wouldn’t be bothered but the treatment for it is very different from anything I’ve tried.

    I do also have an even more complicated psychiatric medical history but I do try to keep the two very separate even though I know the physical and mental health aspects play off against each other, but I am honestly sick of being told that my illnesses are purely psychosomatic!
    I have been diagnosed with Medication Resistant Clinical Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder (was nearly an autism based diagnosis which I think would fit me better now), Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (have experienced a lot of traumatic events throughout my life which have drastically effected me) and the most recent addition to my lists is Dissociative Disorder (on the severe end of the dissociative scale, possibly DID formally known as MPD).

    I guess I was so lucky in getting ESA when I needed it because they took one look at the state of my mental health and freaked out at the thought of me in a work place haha. Ironically, my mental health is better managed than my physical health! I will likely be on medications forever and some fairly hefty ones at that (it’s Lithium that’s destroyed my thyroid and caused hypothyroidism!) and I am undergoing intense mixed approach trauma therapy with EMDR mixed in and in general I have an amazing support team around me with my therapist, psychiatrist, GP (the weak link) and the Crisis Team. For the first time in my life I am pretty mentally stable and have been for about a year, during which my physical health has drastically declined and now I’m barely able to function, can’t manage basic tasks like showering or even brushing my hair or the exhausting and difficult task that is getting dressed. I have nobody to care for me and can’t get anyone in to care for me due to where I live with my uncaring parents… plus I’m not in a place where I could accept that kind of help and don’t know if i’ll ever be. Though now I’m in the difficult position where my physical health is so poor than I am unable to do enough to maintain my mental health and so that’s slowly coming crashing down as well.

    I now desperately need to apply for PIP! Especially if I get evicted… preferably beforehand. I know I have a lot of evidence and that so long as I give myself a lot of time (certainly no more than a question per day) I can fill in the questionnaire… but I would seriously struggle with a face to face assessment again and I know that I don’t have the cognitive ability any more to be keeping track or everything that I’d need to… but I would be devastated if I had to apply for Mandatory Reconsideration and keep having to go through the Appeal Process… I might just be able to force myself through all that but it would make me very ill! I certainly dont have the ability of taking it all the way through to tribunal like many people have to!

    As a sufferer, I know just what it’s like to be in this situation and to be made to feel so helpless and at the mercy of the DWP and this government… but as a natural empath, I am strongly effected by how other people feel more than my own feelings! And for everyone acting as a carer for someone you love, I have all the respect in the world for you to not only manage your own suffering in the situation but also spend your time in the presence of someone else suffering a lot as well! Takes an incredible person to be able to step up when needed because not everyone is capable of doing that!!

    Like

    • Pauline Mccurry · July 20

      My heart truly goes out to you both. YOU MUST FIGHT IT AND FIGHT IT. You will get it overturned and you have done exactly the right thing by broadcasting this shockinv decision. Send this letter to your M.P. the health secretary and your Mayor. Your lives wilp become better in the near future. My prayers and well wishes are with you. Love Pauline

      Like

  2. nudrev breac · July 20

    Why are you surprised by the action of the DWP? TORY governments from my ypung days have always treated the workers badly. It has just got WORSE when the private companies are employed by government. Remember, the government has to recoup the money paid to these companies. The ONLY WAY is by stopping payments to those who really need it.

    Like

  3. Mark Catlin · July 20

    Reblogged this on Declaration Of Opinion.

    Like

  4. Shane Jenkins · July 20

    I really feel for this lady. I have several health conditions myself. I was deemed unfit for work and put in the ESA support group. I was re- assessed 2 years later and the DWP said that I was fit for work. They said to me there must be something I could do, where work is concerned. I asked for a mandatory reconsideration. Which was turned down. Even though my health conditions are getting worse and I have had a few more conditions crop up since. During the time of waiting for the appeal date, I had to claim jobseekers allowance. This put me through a hell of a lot of stress. So I tried to commit suicide. Which I am very ashamed of. I appealed which thankfully I won. The court told the DWP to put me back in the support group. Also not to re-asses me for 2 years. With PIP I was awarded the standard rate of daily living, and the high rate of mobility. I was re-assesed twelve months early I might add! They awarded me the high rate of mobility again but took the standard rate of daily living off me. Once again I couldn’t believe what they were doing to me. Whilst I was waiting for the appeal date for the ESA I really did not want the stress of a PIP as well. So I just gave up and let it go. It feels like I’m committing a crime being ill. All I can say is, I hope their decision makers get health problems, let’s see how they feel about being treated the way I have! My heart goes out to this lady and I wish her all the best. Thank you Shane.

    Like

  5. Sophie Crowley · September 23

    This is totally shocking, I’m so very sorry indeed. I too have been rejected by the DWP despite being wheelchair bound. I am attempting to start the appeal process but feel humiliated and disgusted quite frankly that they have the audacity to make certain claims in the assessor report. I wish you all the very best and good luck for the appeal.

    Like

  6. Pingback: Spain: the only option when the DWP and NHS abandon you | Mr Topple

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