Saturday 22 April 2017

Accompanying someone to a Work Capability Assessment

I've had a face to face Work Capability Assessment, as well as a face to face assessment for Personal Independence Payment in the past. I'm not sure I thoroughly described my experience of these assessments, but today I want to talk through a Work Capability Assessment my father had recently. I accompanied him and took notes throughout.

We arrived at the assessment centre, with the daunting thought that we'd probably have to park quite far away. From my experience, I know that there are a lot of cameras outside these centres and (also from my experience) there's a very high chance that the assessor is watching you to see how far you walk from your car/stop to the building, and they will write their "findings" in your report.

Luckily, we found a space just a few metres from the building. As we entered, we were greeted by a G4S security guard; who immediately asked to see our appointment letter. They also asked if my father could manage stairs or a lift. Now we were under the impression that the assessment would be held on the ground floor, and I made this fact very clear to the security guard. I also mentioned that, although my father could manage to use the lift, he wouldn't be able to use it in the event of a fire & would not be able to use the stairs. The security guard accepted this (reluctantly) and showed us to the ground floor waiting room.

The waiting room was empty, apart from one elderly woman who was noticeably struggling with pain and balance. Although the waiting room was small, there were two cameras strategically placed to film anyone waiting for their assessment. I asked the woman if she was ok, and if she needed a cup of water (there was a water cooler nearby). She declined, but told me she was very nervous about her assessment, and was fed up that she'd been waiting 45 minutes already. I told her I thought that was awful, and she replied that the couple before her had been waiting over an hour. Just before we were called in (after a receptionist came to check my father's ID and sort out travel expenses), the couple the woman had mentioned, came out of the assessment room. One of them (I assume was the claimant) was clearly in agony and could barely walk. People who are struggling this much, should not have to make their way to an assessment. They should either be assessed on paper, or in their own home. Unfortunately the rules (for an ESA claim at least) state that a doctor's note is required before a home assessment is considered. There's not much time to organise this, so this means that people are having to drag themselves to assessment centres that are not always suitable for their needs.

A rather snooty healthcare professional came to call my father in for his assessment. It was easy to tell he was watching my father's every move as we walked towards the room. I have no doubt that this will be (inaccurately) noted in the ESA report. We sat down, and I got out the folder of evidence we wanted to show, as well as a notepad and pen. The "healthcare professional" (I have no idea what his actual profession was, and his badge only said Healthcare Professional) noticed this, and commented that I was allowed to take notes as long as they were just for reference and not to be used in any investigations (hmm). I gave him my most patronising smile and said that these were just for reference. It was obvious to me that he wasn't happy about this, but there was nothing he could do. I know what's allowed. One thing I wasn't happy with, was that he didn't even introduce himself to us.

The assessment then began. The questions asked first were to do with the medical conditions my dad was claiming ESA for. The assessor went through each condition and asked how long he'd had it for, who diagnosed him, any investigations he'd had, what treatments he was on, operations he'd had, whether he'd noticed any improvements, and which specialist/s (if any) he saw for these conditions. What I found was that I had to reword some of the questions the assessor asked, in order for my dad to understand them. The assessor spoke quite quietly, mumbled a lot, and didn't word questions in a clear way. For example, when asking about my dad's total knee replacement surgery, he asked how he was rather than whether he felt there'd been any improvement since the operation. For some, it may seem easy to get what the assessor meant, but when you are put on the spot, it's much better to be asked questions in a clearer way.

We next went onto the tablets my father is currently on. I'd brought them with me, so put them on the table so I could show each box to the assessor. He asked what my father took each medication for, how often, how many at a time, what strength, how long he'd been on them etc. As my dad answered, the assessor checked through each box (presumably to see if dad was telling the truth...).

After this, the assessor asked how we had travelled to the assessment centre, and how long it had taken us. He also asked who dad had travelled with (me!), my name, and age.

We discussed sleep problems next i.e., did dad have any, why he thought he struggled with sleep, how long he slept on average etc.

We then went onto the questions asked in the ESA50 (the limited capability for work questionnaire). The assessor started with personal care questions; such as washing and dressing. He asked how long it took to get out of bed, whether he needed help with dressing or used any aids (bed included). He also asked whether my dad was able to wash/dress his upper and lower body, have showers etc. My dad made sure to mention how much he struggles, and how pain and stiffness severely affect him.

Household tasks, cooking, shopping, and leisure activities were the next topics the assessor asked questions on. He asked what types of chores & cooking dad could manage, how often, whether he needed help, why he struggled and so on. I told the assessor that there's not much we can manage and I have to help my dad if his pain gets too much or he becomes confused.

As for shopping, we do nearly all of ours online (my mum and I take turns with this, as dad can't use a computer). We only go to the shops for a couple of bits (bread and milk, for e.g.) The assessor asked if we walked to the shops, and how far away they were. Dad said that the shops were only 5 or 10 minutes away, but we still had to drive there.

Dad was asked if he had any hobbies, but there wasn't much to discuss on this topic. His concentration is poor, and he doesn't have the energy spare for socialising so it's just light reading and watching a bit of television. The assessor then asked how long dad could stand/sit for. He tried to lead dad to agree with his suggestions for an answer (standing/sitting for 45 minutes, or 2 hours?). Dad was already exhausted and needed prompting, so I told him that it was more like standing for 5 minutes, and sitting for 30 minutes before having to sit back down or move around. This was due to stiffness in joints and pain. I'm hoping the assessor noticed that my dad had to get up a few times during the assessment, for these exact reasons.

The last question asked was how long my dad could walk for, before having to stop. I notice that assessors tend to ask how long (time taken) rather than how far (distance). This does not lead them to an accurate answer for how far a claimant can walk, however, and I think they do this on purpose. No two people will travel the same distance in the space of 5 minutes, for example. One may be able to walk 200 metres, whilst another could only manage 50 minutes. I believe the assessor predicts the furthest distance walked in the time specified; which of course makes the claimant appear more able than they are. I noticed that questions were repeated and reworded sometimes, in order to supposedly "catch us out". I think our answers were consistent though, and I'm glad I'd made my dad aware beforehand that this would happen.

The last part of the assessment was the clinical one; where dad had his blood pressure checked, then had to repeat some exercises (if possible). This consisted of bending/turning his head, moving his arms forward, backwards, to each side & over his head. He also had to make a fist with each hand, and push against the assessors hands. Lastly, he had to sit down and stretch and bend his legs, then push each one against the assessor's hands (both in front and behind).

At the end, the assessor explained what would happen next (writing up the report, sending it to the decision maker etc) and that we could ask for a mandatory reconsideration if unhappy with the decision. We were so glad to get out of the building soon after this!

So that was the face to face Work Capability Assessment! I hope my account of it may be helpful to anyone waiting for theirs. I'm no expert, just someone who has been through the process, but I am happy to read any comments or answer any questions you may have. If I'm not able to answer your question/s, then I will let you know where you may find the answers.

Sunday 2 April 2017


A lot has happened since my last post about mental health . I've had two Community Psychiatric Nurse appointments; to discuss my main problems and where to start with treatment. I've also had a very thorough assessment with a Trainee Psychiatrist, and a Consultant Psychiatrist.

First CPN Appointment - 

My vlog below explains how my first CPN appointment went but to summarise; I was asked similar questions to those at my initial Community Mental Health Team assessment. I was also asked how I'd been since my assessment, and my main reasons for asking for help from the Secondary Care team. I explained how my last therapy session had gone (see My Mental Health Timeline and my vlog A Referral to CMHT for more details), the kind of help I felt I needed (beyond therapy) and the fact that I thought I might have Borderline Personality Disorder.

Once the CPN had asked all the questions she needed to, she gave me her impression of what support she believed would be best for me. At first she wondered whether Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, at Primary Care level, would be more suitable. After I explained more about my needs, however, she decided that some short term therapy for specific problems may be what I need at the moment. She also said that she would get a Consultant Psychiatrist appointment for me, to review diagnoses and medication.

Second CPN Appointment

My second CPN appointment was carried out at home. She asked how I'd been since the last appointment; to which I answered "a bit all over the place again". We went over my responses to questions about my main issues now, any relevant information from the past and any significant events in my life that may have led to my problems now. She asked me to explain my mood swings, how often I have them, how extreme they are, whether anything triggered them and how I coped with them. We went over the medication I took, and whether it helped me at all. Finally, she asked me some more specific BPD-based questions (relationships, mood swings, impulses, feelings of numbness etc). She concluded by suggesting I do some Self Compassion work with her and a support worker. She felt that this would be a stepping stone for me. I will be meeting the support worker (and CPN) on 11th April for this. I also have another CPN appointmen on 24th April, so will let you know how these went.

Psychiatrist Appointment

 A couple of days after my CPN appointment, I had a psychiatrist appointment. I saw a trainee psychiatrist for this, and was asked a lot of questions to cover a whole variety of mental health problems. As well as questions about depression, and various anxiety disorders, I was also asked about my experiences with paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, mania, impulses, and any instances of aggression. The amount of questions asked were exhausting and overwhelming, but I was glad that I was given an opportunity to talk about the kinds of symptoms I had that didn't just fit anxiety and depression. It helped me to remember the things I needed to talk about too, and I honestly don't think I forgot to mention anything! I have had a hallucination and some delusions before, although these aren't regular occurrences at all. I do get mild hypomania sometimes too, and have had impulsive behaviour (although these don't tend to go further than urges now).

The psychiatrist took lots of notes on what I'd mentioned (even things I weren't sure had happened often/severely enough to be relevant) and also asked about my request for a BPD assessment. After asking questions, more specific to the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnostic criteria, she discussed my responses with the consultant psychiatrist. He came into the room, and asked me more questions (to be absolutely sure, I guess) and then confirmed I had Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (aka Borderline Personality Disorder)

The consultant also discussed medication with me. He felt that I should stay on the Sertraline 200mg as it helped a bit, and suited me. In order to help balance my moods, he also prescribed the anti-psychotic Aripriprazole. I'm to take that at 5mg per day for a week, then 10mg per day.

Overall, I'm really pleased with the support I'm getting from the mental health team so far. I was so nervous about opening up about the diagnosis I thought I had, and what help I felt I needed. It was a bad start with the therapist, so I wasn't holding out much hope, but I'm glad I didn't give up! As well as support, as this blog post title says, I've felt validation.