Britain’s ‘bureaucratic and cumbersome benefits system helps nobody’

MS nurses say they are under increasing pressure to help their patients navigate the benefits system.

MS nurses have hit out at Britain’s “bureaucratic and cumbersome benefits system”, as they increasingly find themselves having to support MS sufferers in their benefits claims.

A survey of more than 100 Multiple Sclerosis nurses reveals they are under extreme pressure to help their patients navigate the social security system, with 90% saying they have provided supporting evidence for benefits applications.

The findings also show that 58% worked outside of working hours to provide this evidence, 75% said providing evidence increased their workload either a moderate amount or a lot, and 83% said their patients asked for help with filling in benefits applications.

However, these specialist nurses are not given guidance on what and how evidence should be provided, leading to many MS sufferers losing or being denied benefits they’re entitled to, such as Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs as the MS Society, who carried out the survey, said: “Our survey shows helping with benefits is a significant issue for MS nurses, who also see first-hand how damaging the assessment process is.

“We’re urging the Government to improve the process so MS nurses can concentrate on providing the specialist care only they can deliver.

“Having MS is hard enough. It shouldn’t be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense.”

Johnny Dela Cruz, a MS specialist nurse at Charing Cross Hospital, told the charity: “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.

“So 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.”

Helen Davies, a MS specialist nurse at St Helier Hospital, added: “On average I probably see one patient a week for whom their biggest concern is their benefits application, and this will take up most of their 30 minute clinic appointment.

“I usually have to spend this time discussing coping strategies for the anxiety this causes them. It’s so frustrating to see patients go through this unnecessary stress and upset.”

Debbie Quinn, Policy Advisor at the UK MS Specialist Nurse Association, said: “Nurses are often doing extended hours to fit this in, without it being recognised.

“This can impact their own family life and wellbeing, and we need to keep our nurses fit and well so they can suitably look after others.”

Wendy Preston, Head of Nursing Practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “When there are only a couple of hundred nurses who specialise in MS 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 it 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.”