By Una Murphy
A major Northern Ireland charity has backed top medics in who have hit out at the “unfair treatment” of terminally ill patients refused welfare benefits.
Advice NI said they backed the medical experts who called for the “compassionate model” in Scotland to be introduced to Northern Ireland’s social security system, when dealing with people with terminal illness who claim Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy, Advice NI, said: “There is a long overdue need to reintroduce compassion and fairness back into the system.”
In an open letter published in a Belfast newspaper the medics said: “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 people with terminal illnesses to get the help they need when they need it.”
Cancer is the disease suffered by 90% of people with terminal illness who are paid the PIP benefit because they are expected to have only six months left to live, yet cancer accounts for less than one third of the deaths in Northern Ireland, the medics said.
The life expectancy of people with other terminal illness is more difficult to predict, so they are “unfairly” excluded from getting the financial help they need, they said in the letter to the Belfast Telegraph.
Kevin Higgins said Advice NI “supports the steps being taken in Scotland to ensure there will be no limit set on how long a patient has left to live before their condition is considered “terminal” and of course we want to see this approach adopted in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
“This should form part of reclaiming the social security agenda, making the system fairer and moving from the language of austerity and destitution to dignity and respect”, he said.