Parties unite in call for fairer treatment of terminally ill PIP claimants
Under the present definition of terminal illness applied in PIP, only those with a diagnosis of six months or less left to live are eligible for a fast-tracked special rules assessment and expedited payment within two weeks. Under normal circumstances payments can take more than three months.
Charities and clinicians here have said this definition most severely affects patients suffering from non-cancer terminal conditions, such as dementia, for which it can be difficult to predict an accurate life-expectancy. They are calling for a change in definition to that similar in Scotland where the government is moving to a definition of terminal illness based on clinical need rather than any time-restricted understanding of life expectancy.
The letter to the Permanent Secretary signed by all six parties calls on the Department, in the absence of an Executive and Assembly, to establish a working group to proactively engage with Scottish officials and other stakeholders to review the current definition and begin the preparatory work required for the introduction of a similar fairer definition of terminal illness based on clinical need.
SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon MLA said: “The time terminally ill people have left is precious. They should not be spending this time going through the distress of an intrusive face to face PIP assessment and then waiting anxiously for up to three months to see if their claim has been successful. Terminally ill people in Northern Ireland deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The current definition is cruel and must be changed”.
DUP Assembly Member Keith Buchanan MLA said: “We must do all we can to afford dignity and fairness to terminally ill patients. Someone facing such a diagnosis should not be burdened with the extra distress the current 6 month rule introduces. Given the uncertainty which exists about decision-making here the ultimate hope must be that we can have a local Minister in place as soon as possible to act upon this work by the civil servants”.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said: "Having listened to the clear evidence of the added trauma imposed on those suffering a terminal illness, but who are seriously disadvantaged under the current benefit's 6 month rule within the PIP assessment process and having raised this with the Department for Communities, I again call on the department and DWP to address this as a matter of urgency, dignity and compassion."
UUP MLA Andy Allen said: “People with a terminal illness are already experiencing enough anxiety and distress without also having to worry about their PIP application. The nature of many of these illnesses is that they are entirely unpredictable so that is why I am fully supportive of any move to a fairer and more compassionate model which allows people the right help at the right time."
Naomi Long MLA, Leader of the Alliance Party said: "The current approach under PIP to those with terminal diagnoses lacks the compassion and flexibility to deal with often complex conditions and the medical uncertainty that can surround them. That often leads to increased financial worries and stress at what is already a difficult time for them and their families. A review of the system to address this and support people at the end of life, is long overdue."
Green Party Leader Steven Agnew MLA said: “The compassion with which we treat people with a terminal illness in our lives should be reflected in our systems. Requiring someone with a life limiting condition to go through a degrading assessment serves no purpose. The UK Department for Work and Pensions should follow the lead of their Scottish counterparts and streamline the process in these cases.”