I believe that it is crucial that people who have a terminal illness receive support when they need it, and that the process for retrieving this support does not involve not unnecessary stress. Special Rules for Terminal Illness mean that if you are living with a terminal illness you can have your benefit claim fast-tracked and paid at an enhanced rate, and many charities have campaigned for the rules to be further improved.
This is a cause that has my unwavering support, and I will be paying close attention to the review of the benefits system for terminally ill claimants. I want to make sure the recommendations of this review are implemented so that the most vulnerable people can access the support they need. Along with my colleagues, I will ensure that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) conducts an honest evaluation of our benefits system so that people with severe conditions get the best possible support.
The review will hear from claimants about their first-hand experiences, consider international evidence, and review current performance to better understand how the special rules and the Severe Conditions processes perform. It is vital that the DWP seeks senior medical input to help shape the evaluation and review the evidence gathered. Professor Bee Wee, NHS England National Clinical Director for End of Life Care, has already been a key contributor to this process.
Sadly, a third of people suffering from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) pass away within a year of their diagnosis and over half within two years. But people with MND who are expected to live significantly longer than six months will have to go through the work capability assessment process. Under these circumstances, they would be able to be covered by the Severe Conditions Criteria which would usually exempt them from further face-to-face reassessments.
The six-month rule is very much a guideline, and medical professionals do not need to change their assessment if the patient lives longer than six months. Someone who lives longer than six months will still be able to receive their benefit and will not need to be reassessed until up to three years after their initial claim.
I welcome the introduction of the Severe Conditions Criteria for Employment and Support Allowance/Universal Credit claimants who have the most severe and lifelong health conditions, as well as ongoing awards with a light touch review at ten years for Personal Independence Payment claimants with the highest needs, where those needs will not improve.
Everyone with a terminal illness prognosis should be treated with the utmost sensitivity and care, which is why staff involved throughout the benefits process receive training on how best to handle claimants in this difficult situation.
I hope this answer reassures you of the action being taken to support people with terminal conditions.
Thank you again to all who took the time to contact me. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the parliamentary drop-in for their report launch and AGM of the APPG on MND, but I will be following this issue closely and supporting improvements when they are needed.