Specialist nurses under growing pressure to help patients with disability claim benefits

Survey shows 90% of MS nurses help patients make benefit applications, often in their own time

Survey shows 90% of MS nurses help patients make benefit applications, often in their own time

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Specialist multiple sclerosis (MS) nurses are under increasing pressure to help patients with disability benefit applications, and with anxiety and stress before their assessments.

According to an MS Society survey of more than 100 MS nurses, 90% said they provide patients with evidence for benefits applications and many of them do so outside office hours.

The RCN said that, while nurses are happy to help claimants, a ‘cumbersome and bureaucratic’ system is using up more of their precious time.

Supporting evidence

As part of the application process for disability benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), people are encouraged to include supporting evidence explaining the impact of their condition.

People with MS have told the MS Society they usually ask their MS nurses for help with this.

London MS specialist nurse Johnny Dela Cruz said: ‘I see the effects of patients not being able to get benefits.

‘One had to stop his treatment because a cut to his benefits meant he could no longer get to the hospital. I feel a lot of pressure to make sure I do as much as I can to help my patients, but on average I'm getting asked to do this five times a week. It's overwhelming.’


Another London specialist nurse Joanna Smith said: 'We’re not given any guidance about what to put in these letters, and it's not a simple process.

‘All of my patients going through this find it stressful and some have told me how they’ve lost sleep over their applications or had increased anxiety.

‘Stress and anxiety make MS symptoms, such as fatigue and pain, worse.’

RCN head of nursing practice Wendy Preston said the benefits system is not fit for purpose.

‘When there are only a couple of hundred nurses who specialise in multiple sclerosis across the country, their time becomes extra precious.

‘They gladly help their patients to get the full range of support they require, but a bureaucratic and cumbersome benefits system helps nobody.

‘Ministers and policymakers cannot ignore the experts, who say the system is leading to people missing out when they need help most.

‘The system must be fit for purpose, and clear guidance, education and time must be given to those who can support applications.’

Care delivery

MS Specialist Nurse Association policy adviser Debbie Quinn said nurses' ability to deliver the best possible care is being affected by the paperwork they are asked to do for benefits claims.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: ‘We want to ensure that we get decisions right first time around, so it’s important we have the necessary evidence to make an accurate decision.

‘We continue to engage with stakeholders, such as the MS Society, so that they can pass on relevant information to their medical professionals.

‘Anyone who may need more time to complete their application, including people with multiple sclerosis, is encouraged to request it.’

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