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Current rules on deciding benefits eligibility for terminally ill are unfair and need to be reviewed

 

WE are deeply concerned about the impact of the current definition of terminal illness used for eligibility for benefits, including Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in Northern Ireland.

PIP has special rules for applicants with terminal illnesses, which allow people to access payments quicker and without a face-to-face assessment.

However, this avenue is only open to those who have been given a prognosis of six months or less. This restriction is unfairly excluding many people with terminal illnesses. Over 90% of people accessing PIP via the terminal illness rules have cancer, despite the condition accounting for less than a third of deaths in Northern Ireland.

This is largely because cancer has a more easily defined disease trajectory and it is easier to predict when someone is in the last six months of life, giving clinicians more confidence to sign off the benefit forms.

Many other terminal illnesses have more unpredictable trajectories and life expectancy is harder to predict accurately. Many terminally ill people, including those with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), chronic heart failure and COPD, fail to access PIP under the special rules, meaning they have to wait much longer for their payments and undergo face-to-face assessments.

This is unfair and denies people the best quality of life during the time they have left. The Scottish government has adopted a definition of terminal illness based on clinical judgment, rather than a time-bound estimation of life expectancy. We believe the situation should also be reviewed in Northern Ireland with a view to aligning with the Scottish approach.

This compassionate model will allow many more with terminal illnesses to get the help they need when they need it.

DR JOAN REGAN (medical director, Marie Curie), PHIL HUGHES MBE (director of community care, Northern Health and Social Care Trust), PROFESSOR MAX WATSON (director of project ECHO, Hospice UK), DR IAN WARWICK (executive committee member, Association of Palliative Medicine and Consultant in Palliative Medicine).

 Full list of signatories

Heather Weir, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Hospice

Dr Paul McIvor, Medical Director, Foyle Hospice

Dr Conn Haughey, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Professor Hugh McKenna, Dean of Medical School Development, Ulster University

Dr Chris Leggett, Chair and GP Lead, Down Integrated Care Partnership

Heather Monteverde, Head of Services in Northern Ireland, Macmillan Cancer Support

Dr Bernie Corcoran, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Aine Abbott, GP and palliative medicine specialist

Anne Marie Marley, Respiratory Nurse Consultant, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Gavin McDonnell, Consultant Neurologist, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Fidelma Carter, Public Health Director, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke

Cherry Ewing, Macmillan Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Creea Convery, Regional Care Development Advisor, MND Association Northern Ireland

Dr Jennifer Doherty, Medical Director, Marie Curie

Sandra Aitcheson, Nurse Consultant, Public Health Agency

Sue Patchett, Nurse Education Consultant, HSC Clinical Education Centre

Dr Carol Stone, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Marie Curie

Dr Stephen Todd, Consultant Geriatrician, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Professor Sonja McIlfatrick, Head of School of Nursing, Ulster University

Dr Orla Gray, Consultant Neurologist, South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Michael Crawford, GP, Hillsborough Medical Practice

Miriam McKeown, Hospice Manager, Marie Curie Belfast Hospice

Tara Collins, Programme Manager, Dementia NI

Dr Pauline Wilkinson, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Marie Curie

Joyce Shaw, Service Manager Neurorehabilitation, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Joan Fyvie, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Marie Curie

Emma King, Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Team Manager, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Gillian Mullan, Consultant Lead Clinical Psychologist for Older People, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Felicity Hasson, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Nursing Research, Ulster University

Deirdre McKenna, Senior Social Work Practitioner in Palliative Care, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Gareth Hiscocks, GP, Donagheadee Health Centre

Dr Simon Goldring, GP, Brook Street Surgery

Dr Karen Harkin, GP, Draperstown Surgery

Ria Malone, MND Specialist Nurse, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Sheila Kelly, Consultant in Palliative Medicine (retired)

Lynn O’Hara, Community Heart Failure Nurse, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Amy Doherty, GP, Eglinton Medical Practice

Dr Neil McKeon, GP Partner, Aberfoyle Surgery

Dr Sara Graham, GP, Brook Street Surgery

Lesley McCorry, Community Specialist Multi-disciplinary Palliative Care Team, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Marie Morrissey, Day Hospice and Outpatient Services Manager, Marie Curie

Fiona Patterson, Community Specialist Multidisciplinary Palliative Care Team, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Joanna McCreery, GP, Brook Street Surgery

Dr Katharine Crowe, GP, Donaghadee Health Centre

Gillian Thomas, Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Social Worker, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Noreen Watts, Community Palliative Care Sister, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Graeme Crawford, GP, Bangor Health Centre

Dr Joanne Davis, GP, Donaghadee Health Centre

Dr Ann Donnelly, Speciality Doctor in Palliative Medicine

Colette McCullagh, Occupational Therapist, Specialist Palliative Care Team, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Alyson McVeigh, GP, Donaghadee Health Centre

Ann McSorley, Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Team, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Dr Jenny Gingles, Consultant in Public Health (retired)

Lydia Scholes, Senior Social Worker, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Suzi Hughes, Social Worker, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

laura Millar, Social Worker, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

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