The last investigation on Dr Donald Lyons’ watch as Chief Executive of the Mental Welfare Commission stands - all us of suggest – both as a testament to the power of the work that the MWC has done under his stewardship in Scotland and also as a clear example of the type of work that a Mental Capacity Act Commission could do if established in England and Wales to champion the MCA 2005.
The MWC investigated the case of a woman who took her own life in December 2011. She had recently had a work capability assessment following which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided her benefits were going to be reduced. She was on incapacity benefit and was told she would not be able to be transferred to Employment and Support Allowance so would receive Jobseekers allowance
Ms DE was a woman in her fifties who had worked for most of her life but had been experiencing mental and physical health issues so was signed off work and receiving incapacity benefit. She intended to return to work when she was able to. Ms DE had a teenage son and was engaged and planning to get married in 2012. She had been receiving care and support from her GP and her psychiatrist for over 20 years. Her doctors had never been worried during this time about her taking own life.
During the MWC’s investigation the MWC spoke with people who were involved with Ms DE's care and treatment. The MWC discussed the case with relevant officials from the DWP. The MWC also conducted a survey of psychiatrists to find out how they felt the system was affecting their patients.
The MWC found that the decision was made on the basis of an assessment that contained insufficient information about her mental health. It found that the work capability assessment needed to be more sensitive to mental health issues. The MWC was also disappointed at how the DWP communicated with Ms DE. The MWC felt that not enough effort was made to contact Ms DE and this meant she was not given the opportunity to fully engage with the process. The MWC found that she was not treated as a vulnerable claimant and so was not given any additional support to help her with the process around the assessment by the DWP.
Importantly, the MWC was then involved in useful discussions with the DWP about the recommendations it had made in the report, discussions which remain ongoing.