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Feature Austerity Investigation

GPs’ workload climbs as government austerity agenda bites

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 02 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4300
  1. Gareth Iacobucci, news reporter, The BMJ
  1. giacobucci{at}

Since 2010 the UK government has brought in a raft of changes to the welfare system in a bid to reduce the national deficit. In the first of a two part investigation, Gareth Iacobucci looks at the effects of stricter rules on disability benefits

Nearly all general practitioners in a new survey carried out by The BMJ said that their workload had risen in the past year as a result of their patients’ financial hardship.

Over 1000 GPs responded to the survey, the results of which showed that doctors working in the country’s most deprived inner city areas were the worst affected by the recent reorganisation of the benefits system and other austerity measures. The findings also indicate that people receiving welfare support because of illness or disability are struggling to cope with cuts to their financial support and are turning to their GPs for support.

The findings come after a recent analysis published by the think tank the High Pay Centre said that the poorest fifth of British households were now among the most economically deprived in western Europe.1

This first part of The BMJ’s investigation focuses on how changes to the employment support allowance (ESA), introduced by the Labour government in 2008 to replace the old incapacity benefit, have affected patients with long term illnesses or disabilities. Many doctors in our survey said that the ESA had increased their workload in the past 12 months, after the coalition government introduced stricter criteria for receiving benefits in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

As well as being asked more often to provide medical information for their patients’ work capability assessments (WCAs), GPs are also being asked to help an increasing number of patients appeal against the removal of their benefits under the new system, which many believe has …

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