The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told a severely ill claimant to leave hospital to make his social security claim. He later died. Now, a coroner wants answers from the department. But the case is sadly just one in a long line of catastrophic failures by the DWP – ones which have repeatedly involved claimants’ deaths.
Disability News Service (DNS) first reported on the case of Terence Talbot. He lived with a rare disease called drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS), or drug hypersensitivity syndrome. It’s where people react to certain medications. Symptoms usually first include a high temperature and skin rash. In some cases it can be life-threatening and lead to organ failure. Sadly, this happened to Talbot.
He lived with bipolar disorder. Doctors put him on olanzapine and risperidone which are drugs to help treat the condition. This was while they detained him under the Mental Health Act. The problem is that the drugs caused Talbot to develop DRESS. As the coroner’s report stated, doctors diagnosed it in October 2019 after they gave him the drugs. It noted that Talbot, while being an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, also:
had multiple discharges from acute hospital following admission for symptoms of DRESS syndrome with severe exfoliative dermatitis. Prescribed emollients [skin treatments, like cream] were recorded as self administered although Mr Talbot could not apply them effectively himself. Food, fluid and nutrition was not adequate to meet Mr. Talbot’s needs and nasogastric feeding was commenced on 26th February 2020… this feeding did not meet his needs… He was treated for aspiration pneumonia on 3rd March and suffered a left sided pneumothorax [collapsed lung] on 4th March treated with drain insertion. Mr Talbot was diagnosed with empyema [pus in the chest cavity] treated with antibiotics and his DRESS Syndrome failed to improve and he was placed on end-of-life care.
Talbot died of multiple organ failure on 9 April 2020. This was due to the DRESS causing empyema and pneumonia. And at some point during this period, the DWP got involved.
The DWP gets involved
It is unclear from the coroner’s report just when or how the DWP got in touch with Talbot. But the department contacted him while he was in hospital, saying he had to attend a Jobcentre about his social security claim. The coroner’s report noted that this was instead of him making an “electronic claim”. As the coroner stated:
I heard from all the doctors and a senior nurse in this case who have a considerable experience across a range of specialties and across several different NHS Trusts that they have never experienced nor heard of a case where a severely ill inpatient was required by the Department of Work & Pensions to leave hospital to attend its offices in person to make a claim for welfare benefits. Terence Talbot was suffering with a mental disorder and an exceptionally rare and complex disease with a risk of death and suffering severe exfoliative dermatitis that rendered him very vulnerable to infection.
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DNS editor John Pring noted on Twitter that:
there’s no evidence DWP’s actions led to his death; the facts are still fairly scarce at this point so we also don’t know if Terence Talbot actually attended the jobcentre or was too ill.
Answers are needed
What’s clear is that the coroner thinks the DWP has questions to answer. She’s told work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey that she has to respond to the report by 28 January:
Your response must contain details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action. Otherwise, you must explain why no action is proposed.
A claimant’s death and the DWP’s involvement while they were severely unwell is sadly not uncommon. As The Canary previously reported, it has carried out dozens of reviews in the past few years into cases like Talbot’s. There are also countless specific cases like:
- David Clapson. He was diabetic and died in 2013 after the DWP stopped his social security – leaving him without enough electric to run his fridge which he kept his insulin in. It also left him with barely any food.
- Jodey Whiting. She took her own life in 2017 after the DWP stopped her social security.
- Errol Graham. He starved to death in 2018 after the DWP stopped his social security.
Moreover, Talbot’s case is not wholly unique. Weighing just six stone, Stephen Smith died from multiple health problems in 2019 after the DWP stopped his social security. But before that, the department left him no choice but to leave hospital to go to a tribunal to appeal it denying him social security. According the Liverpool Echo his appeal was successful “after a tribunal judge saw he could barely walk down the street let alone hold down a job”. He died shortly after this.
We also know the DWP has already destroyed dozens of reports into claimant deaths.
A DWP spokesperson told DNS:
Our condolences are with Mr Talbot’s family. We are considering the report and will respond in due course.
As The Canary previously reported, around 35,000 claimants have died across several years:
They died either waiting for the DWP to sort their claims or after it said they were well enough to work or start moving towards work. Moreover, in 2018 alone there could have been 750 (if not more) people who took their own lives while claiming from the DWP. But across five years, the department only reviewed 69 cases of people taking their own lives.
Yet the DWP still says the issue of claimants dying on its watch isn’t a “systemic” problem.
The problem is systemic
It’s unclear at this stage just what the DWP’s specific actions were in Talbot’s case. Once it has responded to the coroner, we will know more. But the very fact that it would even attempt to make a seriously ill claimant leave hospital is damning. It points to a wider problem in the department of, at best, systemic failures. At worst, it shows a culture of neglect and intransigence to the lives of the very people it’s supposed to be supporting.
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