That day when the brown envelope of terror falls through the letterbox, seems to be the most feared of the entire ESA process. Considering the competition it was, I can't overstate how much this scares people.
I get messages almost daily, written in the kind of panic you can taste and hear and smell. They ask if I have any tips or advice on filling in their ESA50 form (the form you must complete if applying for out of work sickness support.)
Rather than wear my keyboard to a nub typing the same words in a Groundhog Day loop, I thought I would share them here :
1) If you know you will be getting a form at some point to transfer you from the old IB (Incapacity Benefit) start planning now. You only have 4 weeks to fill the form in once it's arrived, and health professionals can take that long just to return the evidence you will need.
-You might want to write a letter yourselves ( no more than one page of A4) as this will help your GP ( or physio, CPN, consultant etc) and make sure nothing gets missed. When you give it to her, suggest she use it as a basis and give permission for her to simply sign it if she is happy with everything you've written. It will save the GP time and might just possibly save you a fee.
2) Complete the form concisely. Don't waffle. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking the more they write, the more likely they are to succeed. The opposite is true. Atos HCPs ( Health Care Professionals, who carry out "fit for work" assessments ) are under enormous pressure to get through as many cases in a day as possible. They simply do t have time to read through reams of evidence and will almost certainly just call you in for a WCA ( Work Capability Assessment ) to save themselves the trouble. Make every last word count. You shouldn't need to attach more than one extra side of A4 - 2 at the most.
3) Use terms medics will recognise. So don't say "I get blockages in my bowel" say "I get fibrotic structuring causing chronic sub-acute obstruction". Don't say "my stomach doesn't work very well meaning I'm often sick" say "I have gastroparesis causing regular reflux and vomiting.
4) List your medical interventions and treatments, with dates, clinically and unemotionally. Eg "Surgery, 2005, laparotomy to resect section of jejenum. MRI, 2008, showing anal fistula, Endoscopy 2011 showing perforation"
5) List all symptoms, however trivial or embarrassing.
6) List all medications, aids and appliances you use to get through a day, even if you aren't using them that particular week.
7) If the answer to a question is "I can sometimes do that on a good day, but not on a bad day" say "I cannot do blah reliably/repeatedly/safely/in a timely fashion" (use one or all of these as appropriate.
8) Finally, NEVER lie or exaggerate on the form. If you can't walk very far, measure HOW far ( most people usually underestimate. If an HCP thinks your evidence sounds implausible, he will doubt other things you say.
If you follow all of these tips, you have the best chance of success. Good luck and most of all DON'T PANIC. It wont help, it will only make the form harder to fill in.
8) Finally, NEVER lie or exaggerate. If you can't walk very far, measure HOW far (most ppl underestimate) If the HCP thinks you've exaggerated on the form it makes you look dishonest.