ESA benefit payments- retests axed for chronically ill claimants

Claimants of long term sickness benefits will no longer face repeated medical assessments to keep their payments.

Claimants of long term sickness benefits will no longer face repeated medical assessments to keep their payments.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said it was pointless to re-test recipients of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with severe conditions and no prospect of getting better.

More than two million people receive ESA, which is worth up to £109 a week. The move has been welcomed by charities supporting those with severe illness.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said it was “a welcome U-turn” by the government, but “the devil was in the detail”. What about mental health conditions, conditions that are fluctuating, conditions that may not necessarily have a physical manifestation?” she said.

Applicants for ESA have to undergo a work capability assessment to find out if they are eligible and they are re-tested to ensure their condition has not changed. Some are re-tested every three months and others up to two years later.

Under the government’s change, those who are deemed unfit for work and with conditions that will not improve will no longer face re-testing.

Illnesses such as severe Huntington’s, autism or a congenital heart condition are among those that are likely to qualify for continuous payments without reassessment. The criteria will be drawn up with health professionals.

Mr Green said a “key part” of making sure those who were unable to work received “full and proper support” included “sweeping away any unnecessary stress and bureaucracy”.

Currently, those in the “work-related activity group” – deemed unable to work at the moment but capable of making some effort to find employment – receive up to £102.15 a week in ESA payments.

Those in the “support group” – deemed unable to work and not obliged to do anything to improve their chances of finding work – receive up to £109.30 a week.

From April 2017, payments will fall to £73 for new claimants in the “work-related activity” category as ministers argue that too few people in the category are moving into work.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, welcomed the “progressive” reform to the re-testing regime, which he had set up when in office.

“I hope that the government will… move on to the fuller reform… where we lock together with the health department much more to be able to get a better health assessment of people, rather than a just strictly work assessment.”

Tim Nicholls, policy manager at the National Autistic Society, said ESA was a vital benefit for those unable to work, covering basic daily living costs such as food, heating and clothes.

“The flawed assessment process can be highly stressful for autistic people who can experience high levels of anxiety meeting new people or when their routine is broken, particularly when the stakes are so high,” he said. “We will be looking out for more details from the government.”

The smoking ban has led to a sharp fall in heart attacks

Major research suggests that the introduction of a smoking ban has resulted in a 40 per cent fall in the number of people suffering from heart attacks as the result of passive smoking.

Major research suggests that the introduction of a smoking ban has resulted in a 40 per cent fall in the number of people suffering from heart attacks as the result of passive smoking
Heart attack rates in the UK have fallen by up to 42 per cent since the 2007 smoking ban, major research suggests.

A review of 77 studies found that reduced exposure to passive smoking has caused a “significant reduction” in heart problems across the population.

Several of the studies found that non smokers and ex-smokers gained most the benefits.

The Cochrane study examined a range of health outcomes in 21 countries, including the UK, which have introduced bans in recent years.

Researchers concluded that there was strong evidence that reduced exposure to passive smoking reduced the number of people suffering from cardiac problems.

The studies examined included a Liverpool study of 57,000 hospital patients. This found admissions for heart attacks fell by 42 per cent among men and 43 per cent among women in the five years since the ban was introduced in 2007.

And US research reviewed found a 14 per cent reduction in strokes in counties which introduced a ban, compared with those which did not.

Some 33 out of the 44 studies reviewed on heart disease found a “significant reduction” following the introduction of smoking bans.

Researchers said the studies took account of other trends over the period – such as a large increase in rates of statin prescribing, to protect against heart disease.

Review author, Professor Cecily Kelleher, from University College, Dublin, said: “The current evidence provides more robust support for the previous conclusions that the introduction of national legislative smoking bans does lead to improved health outcomes through a reduction in second hand smoke exposure for countries and their populations.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This review strengthens previous evidence that banning smoking in public places leads to fewer deaths from heart disease and that this effect is greatest in the non-smoking population.

He said the studies were observational and all had their limitations, but it would be difficult to study the effects of passive smoking in a more robust scientific way.

Researchers said the evidence was less clear about whether the introduction of bans had actually helped people to give up smoking.

Nonetheless, smokers seemed to benefit from some reduction in exposure to passive smoke.

One Scottish study, which found no fall in smoking rates after a ban was introduced in 2006, found a 14 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for heart problems among smokers, and a 21 per cent reduction in admissions among non-smokers.

The research found the impact of the ban on respiratory health, and conditions such as asthma, was less clear cut, though seven of 12 studies on asthma found reduced hospitalisations since the ban.

Overseas nurses denied NHS jobs

Thousands of overseas nurses were denied permission to work in England last year, despite hospitals facing staff shortages.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found that the refusals have hit high profile hospitals in Cambridge, Newcastle and Manchester.

A Freedom of Information request to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) found more than 2,341 refusals.

The RCN asked for the number of applications to allow overseas (non-European Union) nurses to work in England between April and November 2015 and the number refused.

It found that East Lancashire Hospitals NHS had the highest number of refusals with 300 out of 300 applications.

The research found that Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and North Cumbria University Hospitals both had about 240 refusals.

Nursing was temporarily placed on the MAC shortage occupation list (allowing more overseas nurses) in December.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: “These figures show that when nursing is not on the list, many trusts are unable to recruit enough nurses, which could have an impact on patient care.”

Catherine Morgan, director of nursing at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, said that she had been prevented from recruiting a number of overseas nurses.

“It is frustrating because we are running a hospital and do want it to be safe, and we had the opportunity to recruit from India and the Philippines and we had nurses keen to come over but haven’t been able to bring them over,” she said.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The MAC is currently reviewing the shortage occupation list. Staffing is a priority and there are already more than 8,500 more nurses on our wards since 2010 and 50,000 more nurses in training.

“We want more home-grown staff in the NHS and our recent changes to student funding will create up to 10,000 more nursing, midwifery and allied health professional training places by 2020.”