Belfast Telegraph

Cancer sufferer furious at being told she's fit to work

By Brendan McDaid

A woman being treated for breast cancer has expressed her outrage after she was told she is fit to return to work.

Cecilia Burns said she burst into tears when she received the shocking news that her benefits were being withdrawn. The 51-year-old Strabane woman, who has worked and paid taxes for over 30 years, was diagnosed with cancer in April 2011.

Following a lumpectomy, she was told the cancer had spread to 15 lymph nodes. She has since undergone 18 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy at the City Hospital in Belfast. Mrs Burns has also had to endure several rounds of testing and will be on the cancer treatment drug, Herceptin, until December.

The mother-of-two said she was dismayed and sickened that the only time she has relied on the state it has let her down. She also called into question the real purpose of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in 2008 by the Government to replace Incapacity Benefit, with thousands of people in the process of being transferred onto the new benefit.

Mrs Burns said the ESA payment was £65 a week when she was put on it following her diagnosis.

“I had no problem with it, and that payment went up to £98, and then I got a letter to go for a medical examination. I phoned them and said to them, ‘Do you not understand I am still going through treatment?’ They said, ‘It doesn’t matter and if you don’t go your benefits will be cut’.

“I felt I had nothing to lose because I’m a genuine case and I had no reason to lie. I went ahead and it consisted of a nurse — not a doctor because I had mistakenly called her a doctor — with no medical evidence in front of her.

“It was basically sitting in front of a computer screen answering questions, can you do this? Can you do that? Lift your legs, move your arms, head, hunker down.

Mrs Burns said she was utterly shocked when word came through declaring her fit to return to work.

“When I got the letter telling me I started to cry. I thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me’.

She posed the questions: “How can someone do an assessment when they didn’t have my medical notes, they weren’t a doctor, and how does lifting your arm or leg deal with you having cancer treatment?

The decision is now under appeal, but a Social Security Agency spokes-man said they could not comment on individual cases.

“As part of the Work Capability Assessment a healthcare professional considers all the information provided by the customer. The assessment looks at how their condition affects them, rather than the condition itself and what a person can do rather than assessing what they can’t,” he said.


Work Capability Assessment is the main assessment for Employment and Support Allowance claims. It may include a medical assessment if more information is needed about an illness or disability before a decision can be made on claimants’ capability for work. A healthcare professional, who has been trained in handling Employment and Support Allowance claims, will assess how illness or disability affects capability for work or work-related activity, and provides advice to the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for administering benefit claims.

Source: Directgov

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