Disabled activists have accused Islington Council and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith of implementing a project that will “cause harm” to patients and “compromise” doctors’ ethics, as they place job coaches in surgeries to get unemployed patients back to work.
Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC) led a protest at the City Road Medical Centre, one of six GP practices in the borough to pilot the controversial scheme.
The protest later moved to Old Street, where traffic was brought to a standstill by protesters, causing minor delays.
DPAC activist Paula Peters told Islington Now: “If this pilot is successful then a GP’s surgery will not be a place of sanctuary. It will become a place of bullying and a place of sanctions. Doctors’ ethics will be compromised. We call on all doctors who have been roped into this scheme to remember their promise to ‘first do no harm’.
“Projects like this are incredibly dangerous and will cause further harm to people who could already be distressed. This is euthanasia.”
Ms Peters also issued a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, calling on him to take Islington Council to task for endangering the most vulnerable people in the borough.
The ‘Working Better’ pilot scheme is being piloted by NHS Islington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and based on recommendations from the council’s Employment Commission. It is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and the coaches will be provided by welfare to work agency, Remploy.
The trial began in September last year and will run for 12 months.
The Junior Doctors’ Committee of the British Medical Association sent a speaker to the protest. Dr Mona Kabal said: “What the government are telling us is that is that looking after our patients is no longer enough, that we have to do their work. They want us to hand over patient notes for job centres to write in. They want to coerce patients back into work that they are not ready for.
“They want doctors to be complicit in cruelty, and I am here to tell you we won’t be going along with it.”
A spokesperson for Islington Clinical Commissioning Group said: “This local pilot, which is entirely voluntary, offers patients, including those who may have experienced mental health problems, the opportunity to be referred for employment advice and guidance if they feel that a return to work would be beneficial.
“Employment coaches are provided by Remploy, and involvement in this local pilot will have no impact whatsoever on receipt of benefits. If at any time a patient decides they no longer wish to be involved in the pilot, they are able to leave.”
Leader of Islington Council, Councillor Richard Watts, said: “Concerns about our Working Better scheme are misplaced. Let’s be clear: the scheme is entirely voluntary and not linked, in any way, to any welfare-to-work conditionality or sanctions regime.
“We know from independent research across our community that the vast majority of our disabled residents do want to work and want a better chance to show what they can do. The council opposes ‘workfare’. We ask the protesters to come and meet us so we can discuss our Working Better scheme in detail.”