Changes needed to work tests

The Government has accepted it will need to make changes to its fitness to work Work Capability Assessment (WCA) tests, after they were branded “impersonal and mechanistic” in a review by a leading occupational health clinician.

The Independent Review of Work Capability Assessment by Professor Malcolm Harrington, emeritus professor of occupational health at the University of Birmingham, argued there were “clear and consistent” criticisms of the WCA tests, which assess whether someone is fit to work and can come off incapacity benefits.

“There is strong evidence that the system can be impersonal and mechanistic, that the process lacks transparency and that a lack of communication between the various parties involved contributes to poor decision-making and a high rate of appeals,” he said.

Among his 20 recommendations, Harrington suggested Jobcentre Plus build more empathy and transparency into the process, which is carried out by provider Atos, including better explanation of results and support available.

Test questionnaires could include more personalised elements and more plain English, for example. It also recommended piloting audio recording of assessments and Harrington advised Atos to employ “mental, intellectual and cognitive champions” in each medical examination centre.

In response, employment minister Chris Grayling accepted all Harrington’s recommendations.

But Dr Olivia Carlton, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, said accepting the recommendations needed to be just a first step by the Government.

“As we move more people with disability into the workplace it is important that they have access to good occupational health advice.”

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