A row's broken out after GPs across a large part of Cardiff and the Valleys were told to stop writing letters on behalf of patients who are trying to appeal against decisions to stop their benefits payments.
The advice has come from the Bro Taf Local Medical Committee which represents the doctors. The say the letter writing is taking time away from treating patients. Tom Sheldrick reports from the Rhondda Valley.
Bro Taf is the only one of Wales' five local medical committees - representing NHS GPs in each part of the country - to issue guidance on how to turn down requests for help with benefits claims.
Morgannwg LMC said the number of patients asking GPs for help with benefits claims was a significant problem.
It said it had not issued specific advice - but that it was up to GPs if they wanted to write a letter for patients, and that GPs have three options: write the letter for free, do so with a charge, or refuse.
Both Dyfed Powys and Gwent LMCs said they had also not issued a letter, and that it was left to the discretion of GPs.North Wales LMC declined to comment.
Bro Taf Local Medical Committee represents all GPs in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil. The LMC has sent a letter to all its GPs for them to give to patients asking for letters to support benefit appeals.
The benefits system is undergoing major change and this is impacting on many people across the country, affecting the amount of money they receive and the benefits for which they are eligible.
GPs have a contract with the NHS to provide general medical servicesto their patients and are not in a position to administer or police thebenefits system.
The LMC considers that it is not appropriate for GPs to be asked for letters of support or letters to confirm care needs. GPs are not contracted or resourced to provide this kind of service and making such requests to GPs represents an abuse of NHS resources.
GPs do provide some medical services to the Department of Work and Pensions under contract, but these are subject to an agreed process that involves the Departments concerned directly requesting information from GPs.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) says that if further medical evidence is required for a benefits application, it will be requested by a healthcare professional working for Atos Healthcare. GPs are required to complete this as part of their terms of service.
A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after careful consideration of all the available evidence. That can include supporting medical evidence from the claimant's GP or other healthcare professional.
GPs have been clear that they do not want to be responsible for making decisions on peoples’ benefit entitlement, which is why we have processes in place to request the appropriate information from GPs to enable us to make those decisions.
– Department of Work and Pensions
If a benefits claimant appeals a decision at an independent tribunal they can submit any extra evidence which they feel may help their appeal, but it is not a DWP requirement.
GPs in south east Wales are being advised to stop writing letters for patients who are appealing benefit decisions.
In a recent newsletter sent to doctors, Bro Taf Local Medical Committee (LMC) stated that recent changes to the benefits system may impact on GPs with affected patients asking for letters to confirm care needs or medical conditions.
The LMC has provided doctors with a draft letter for them to give to patients, carers or any body asking for medical evidence.
The newsletter states: "GPs need to have a consistent approach to this issue and colleagues who do this work make it more difficult for others to resist and it spreads the belief with patients and local authorities that GPs are happy to take on this non contracted and unfunded work."