Friday, 11 March 2011

Beryl's story: Collapsed lung? You still can't have ESA

Beryl is a woman in her 50s, who has worked all her life and feels she’s always done an honest life’s work. She works as a piano tuner – a very physical job, but one she loves and had every intention of continuing until retirement. That is, until she fell ill, in May 2010. At that point, she hoped that the system would provide for her...

Beryl went to A&E in May 2010 barely able to breathe and was told she had dry pleurisy and a collapsed lung. She struggled for every step, fighting to put one foot in front of the other, as she could barely get enough oxygen into her body. Yet when she applied for ESA and attended a medical in this state, she was passed fit for work. The Atos doctor did not even notice that Beryl was presenting with a collapsed lung.

Not being awarded a benefit to which she was entitled, while clearly unable to work, put Beryl into a difficult situation. From having been able to afford what she needed, Beryl had to adjust, juggling household money in order to keep her business afloat, paying bills for things such as a Yellow Pages advert taken out in good faith, but with several months yet to pay.

“It’s not the money,” she told me, “it’s that they don’t believe you. Every time you speak to people on the phone they say ‘I’m sorry to bother you, I can hear that you’re ill’ but the powers that be have decided that I’m fit to work.”

Beryl appealed. She wrote to her MP, and sent a bundle of supporting evidence to the Job Centre, including letters from her GP and her consultant stating that she could barely walk or breathe, and that it would be at least a year before Beryl could hope to have recovered, if indeed she would recover at all. The appeal was heard in December 2010. However, they did not consider any of the new evidence – it was a mere rubberstamp exercise, to confirm the original decision. Although Beryl was too weak to leave the house, now relying on neighbours to bring food and help her to manage, the Job Centre decided she was fit and able to return to work.

Fortunately, Beryl was awarded Disability Living Allowance and a Blue Badge which has helped her to some extent; she won these on the same evidence presented for her ESA application. She has also applied for a tribunal for her ESA, which means that she has to be paid until the tribunal is heard, but she will still have to go through the stress of a hearing to prove entitlement, something Beryl is dreading.

The MP has written asking the Department of Work and Pensions to investigate, and for a copy of their files, but has had no reply.

Beryl is still very unwell. Although she now has a diagnosis, there are no guarantees as to what level her health can be restored – she may be disabled for the rest of her life, and will certainly remain seriously ill for the near future. However, she is still being chased by the Job Centre, because as far as they’re concerned there’s nothing wrong with her.

A lovely lady works all her life, builds up a successful business, pays her taxes – and then the system lets her down when she needs it most. Ten months from when she fell ill Beryl still hasn’t been awarded ESA, but as she can barely manage to make a cup of tea she certainly couldn’t return to work. This is the system we trust to support us when we need it most. The system, quite frankly, is screwed.

[This article was also posted at]


  1. This is really shocking :(

  2. Shocking, but sadly not surprising...?

  3. Arbeit macht frei.

    Gas us all now, put us out of our misery.

  4. She didn't have an appeal rejected, she would have had a reconsideration by the DWP which was rejected. Frankly, that's pretty standard by all accounts. She should win her tribunal when it happens and get the money backdated. It has to be remembered that the whole point of all of this, in my view, is an excuse for funneling hundreds of millions of pounds of public money into a private company. Weeding out the shirkers and the work-sky is what they call it to make it socially acceptable, but what it really is as we can plainly see from this example is no more than outright theft from the deserving. It takes money from the deserving ill and gives it to business for profit. That's what all this has been about.

  5. It is a shame hat this has nothign to do with work shy as we all know DLA and ESA cuts are nothign to do with anything but lies from the govt.

    If somebody has proof from their specialist - In the NHS that is meant to be our doctors who see us. Then if they have proof of their disability (MRIs or whatever tests) then this stupid DWP kak shouldnt be forced upon people who have enough to bloody go through as it is!

    Its not a bad back! Its not anything she made up the poor woman cant breathe - I know soon that they will say that dead people will be having to go back to work as it seems that the only people who don't hafta be targeted are the friends of Cameron - And that aint none of us normal people.

  6. @Anonymous:

    I find it rather disappointing that you've bought into the tabloid lies that people with "bad backs" are fakers. The back is a fairly significant part of the body; if it's damaged or injured in anyway it can not only be excruciatingly painful but can affect your ability to even sit/stand up.

  7. @Lisa - I didnt mean every body (sorry) I meant that there are some people who have faked it with bad back and then got better and still claimed (one very well known person gone to jail for it while singing on stage was still claiming DLA and dancing all over the place with obviously no problems)

    I am sorry I wrote that line.

    I didnt mean people who have significant problems. We all know there are people out there who have no medical specialists who can talk for them

    I better shut up now as I am obviously not able to speak sense today. Sorry to have insulted you

  8. @Lisa I really really AM sorry Lisa for using that saying - And I do know how a bad back can be really vbad a member of my family has it. I will think next time and put in a different way of saying things.

    Think before you speak - Lesson well learned

    More apologies

  9. Just to add to the point on the proverbial 'bad back', the media and government have spent years spinning it as a classic fake disability, but that's all it is, spin. It's very easy to criticize a disability you can't see, but that's roughly the equivalent of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand when danger threatens, just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't very real. I haven't written anything for WTB in the past several weeks, not because I don't have anything to say, but because at the moment my spine's in such a state I can't even type comfortably (and I already type lying flat on my back), never mind do anything more active. Fortunately I did get ESA without needing to appeal, but even my assessment was blatantly unacceptable.

    Equally people need to understand that having a disabling spinal (or other) condition doesn't mean you can't do anything active, for instance I usually find dancing much less painful than either sitting or standing still, there's absolutely nothing medically inconsistent with that, no matter what the tabloids would have you believe -- disability is complex and frequently counter-intuitive.

    Any disability can potentially be faked, the people who spin 'bad backs' as a fake disability are those who insist that unless you're a full-time wheelchair user, an amputee, or blind then you aren't 'properly' disabled. Ultimately it's just as much a form of discrimination as attacking any other member of a minority.

  10. I really wish this story was surprising... No wonder people find it difficult to believe.

  11. Good news... Beryl contacted me yesterday to say that a tribunal took place (in her absence and without her knowledge of the date) and she has just been awarded ESA, backdated by 6 months. This is not the date of her initial claim, but she is pleased with the outcome nonetheless and says "Now I can put all my efforts into trying to get better."

  12. @Flash: "in her absence and without her knowledge of the date"

    Thank god it went the right way, but how on earth did a tribunal happen without the person involved being told? Just more evidence that the system is badly broken.

  13. Yes, I was surprised not to be told, or invited to a Tribunal Hearing, as I said I would attend even though it would be hard and cause me a lot of pain and stress. I was so angry after having worked all my life (I am 60 this year), to be told I had no limited capability for work, and treated like I was lazy, a scrounger, or a liar when I was so seriously ill.

    An xray in May 2010 showed I had lower left lung collapse and dry pleurisy. By September I had pleurisy again, and left lung had collapsed even more, again clearly visible on a second x-ray. This was also documented by lung consultant's letter in October, thus proving that when I saw the Atos Doctor in August, my left lung was collapsed. I told him I had a history of asthma and mico-plasma pneumonia dating back to 1986. On the day of the medical I had chest pain, severe breathlessness, heart palpitations, could hardly walk, and was fighting for every breath, but none of this was noted.

    In January 2011 I had a further diagnosis of helicobacter pylori. The excess acid that the stomach makes to kill the parasite has damaged my lungs, and I still cannot walk without severe breathing distress. It will take a long time for my lungs to recover, if at all, but now at least I can focus all my efforts and energy on recovering as much as possible.

    It is hard to find the strength to stand up to the DWP when you are seriously ill, but I have had a lot of help and support from people in my community, some of whom have known me 10 years or more. Atos Doctor saw me for 32 minutes!

    I hope my story gives others courage, and helps them to find the strength to fight back.
    Don't let the DWP bullies get away with it!
    Thanks to all - Beryl

  14. Just saw lung consultant on 16 March and barium swallow shows fluid dripping through perforation in oesophagus, right down into left lung. Acid getting directly into left lung from here, and vapour going to both lungs. I also have hiaitus hernia. Blimey I'm a mess! That's in addition to collapsed lung, pleurisy, asthma, paliptations and helicobacter pylori. Nothing wrong with me ? Atos doctor should consider career change, maybe flower arranging, or playing with the traffic!