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Why I do benefits tribunal work

Dr Patricia Moultrie uses her medical knowledge and communication skills at appeal hearings.

Dr Moultrie: ‘It is a pleasure to do something so different from GP work in a room with no distractions and no telephone’
Dr Moultrie: ‘It is a pleasure to do something so different from GP work in a room with no distractions and no telephone’

My position as a medical member in the Social Entitlement Chamber sitting on social security appeals is a real judicial appointment. Using my skills to resolve disputes and help bring about justice is a challenge and a privilege.

Through my work for the Tribunals Service I have developed a greater understanding of how illness affects people's lives.

The benefits system is so important, but it is complex and it can be hard for individuals to make their difficulties understood when claiming benefits.

I use my professional expertise to enable the individual to fully explain how their conditions affect them so that the tribunal has all the information it requires.

I also analyse the written medical evidence for the benefit of the non-medical members of the tribunal. I have to use my medical knowledge in a different way - it is fascinating to see how the medicine fits in with the legislation.

I like bringing my GP knowledge of a broad range of conditions to tribunals and considering the interaction between psychological and physiological factors in individuals that are contributing to disability.

Communication skills
GPs have good communication skills, a broad base of clinical knowledge and an understanding of family dynamics and societal pressure. These attributes are all fundamentally necessary in medical tribunal work.

A real pull for me was the opportunity to use my medical knowledge in a different way. I have to take a broader, independent and impartial view of patients' disabilities so it is not like the usual patient-doctor relationship.

Many GPs are perplexed by the decisions made about their patients' benefits. Being able to play a part in those decisions is fantastic, and it is a real intellectual challenge to apply medical understanding within a completely different framework.

I also find it a pleasure to do something so different from GP work in a room with no distractions and no telephone and enough time to dedicate to fact finding and decision making.

Every case heard includes a tribunal judge who may be a full-time judge or a solicitor or barrister sitting as a part-time judge.

The composition of each tribunal is determined by the nature of the appeal. In appeals involving disability living allowance, in addition to a tribunal judge, I sit with a member with experience of disability matters.

Working with non-medical colleagues is part of the attraction of this work. I also enjoy the challenge of fitting into a new team most days and working effectively together.

Benefit decisions
We hear appeals on benefit decisions made by the government. Appeals heard by a tribunal with a medical member can concern disability living allowance, employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit.

A big part of the job is reading and assimilating appeal papers before the hearing.

There can be substantial amounts of complex documentary evidence and this work is always necessary regardless of whether the appellant has opted for an oral hearing or the appeal is being decided on the basis of the appeal papers alone.

I often have to read up on medical conditions and a strong commitment to continuing professional development is essential for this role.

I work closely with the tribunal judge and when there is one, the disability qualified tribunal member, deciding appeals by considering facts and applying the relevant law to them.

I contribute to the giving of a reasoned written judgment by the tribunal judge.

All tribunal members have one main hearing venue, normally one closest to their home, but we can be invited to sit at other locations.

I can do as little as one half day per week, which is great for me and fits in well with my other work commitments if I am busy. As long as I declare when I am available in good time, the work is really flexible.

I am required to sit for a minimum of 15 days a year and to attend up to three training days. Many members do a lot more than the minimum and it is possible to sit quite often.

As GPs, we have more skills than we realise in assessing disability. Most of us do this informally in some way every day when we see patients and advise them on the management of their conditions.

Working with tribunals refines this skill. In return I take the experience gained from my tribunal work back to my role as a GP so the roles are mutually beneficial.

  • Dr Moultrie is a GP in the Glasgow area and an occupational health physician
Job Terms and Conditions
  • Appointment as a fee-paid judicial office holder is for an initial period of five years.
  • The appointment can be renewed for successive five-year periods subject to an upper age limit of 70 years.
  • Fees range from £310 to £371 a day.
  • Office holders are entitled to maternity, paternity and adoption leave and statutory sick pay.
  • Travel costs to all appeals venues are paid or reimbursed.
  • Office holders are expected to refrain from any activity, political or otherwise, which would conflict with their judicial office or be seen to compromise their impartiality.
  • The Judicial Appointments Commission is currently seeking to recruit 260 new medical members for the Social Entitlement Chamber. Visit www.judicialappointments.gov.uk to find out more and to download an information pack and application form.

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