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Ex-RAF serviceman from Lincoln kept alive by portable machine has benefits stopped

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

Alex Smith

Counting the cost: Former RAF Police dog handler Alex Smith developed heart failure two years ago and is kept alive by a machine attached to his ribs

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An ex-serviceman who is always just moments from death has had his benefits axed as he awaits a new heart.

Alex Smith has been told he is fit to work – despite having to carry around a machine to keep himself alive.

His £420-a-month unemployment benefits have been suspended, leaving Mr Smith "financially crippled".

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney has vowed to take up his case with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

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Mr Smith, who lives in Arboretum Avenue, off Monks Road, with his partner Elaine, toured all over the world during his time as an RAF police dog handler. He suffered heart failure after a common cold and is waiting for a heart transplant. He is kept alive by a machine woven through his ribs to a pump in his heart which keeps his blood flowing at a constant speed.

A medical check-up concluded that he was ineligible to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Mr Smith says the decision is nonsense.

"I feel like my integrity and honesty is being questioned. I did not want to claim benefits anyway but I did so out of necessity," he said.

"If my machine was to fail I would pass out within 15 seconds and I would die quite quickly. Going out to work physically drains me. After a day's work, I need to rest up completely for three days. I'm a physical wreck.

"At the assessment earlier this year, I explained my condition and machine and then that was it, they said I could go. A report said it was not accepted that I had limited capability to work."

A DWP spokesperson said: "Employment and Support Allowance assesses someone's capacity for work and looks at what a person can do because we know conditions affect different people in different ways. A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face-to-face assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.

"We have made considerable improvements to the Work Capability Assessment to make it fairer and more effective. If someone disagrees with the outcome of their claim, they have the right to submit new evidence and appeal."

Mr Smith is submitting an appeal against the ruling, during which he will receive the basic rate of ESA.

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  • disabldtaxpay  |  December 19 2012, 9:34PM

    Littleimp Unfortunately if you don't turn up, they find you fir for work. Yes, really. This is how they found a man in a coma fit for year this year.

    Rate   13
  • disabldtaxpay  |  December 19 2012, 9:31PM

    Pittacus Your information is out of date - DWP no longer pay ESA if we appeal. OK, they have to give us a back payment if we win, but this can take many months (it was over 10 months from my assessment to a successful tribunal). Far too many people who have been on DLA for incurable or deteriorating conditions have been rejected by Atos only to have the decision overturned later - after which DWP and Atos usually restart the cycle within a month. And the mounting number of people who have committed suicide or had their health seriously deteriorate as a result of the stress is horrifying. Taxpayers are paying a private company enormous amounts of money for badly flawed results.

    Rate   13
  • Dale_1981  |  December 15 2012, 10:46AM

    Pittacus. It's a shame that you have such a view. It demonstrates a total lack of understanding of Mr McCartney's situation. The machine that he wears is not a replacement 'electric' heart. It's a machine that has severe limitations and pumps just about enough blood around the body to keep somebody alive and conscious whilst at rest. When the oxygen demand increases (ie. after a simple walk to the toilet) the machine cannot respond like a human heart and increase blood flow. We manage to walk to the toilet without noticing these changes as our body does it all for us. In fact, our heart responds even to the simple task of standing up. Gravity means that extra effort is required by the heart just to pump blood upwards into the head. When we get angry, upset, happy, stressed or otherwise emotional, our hearts change rate in response to adrenaline and other hormonal changes. The machine does not even account for these minor changes and will leave the patient drained, short of breath, unable to move for some time and at higher risk of cardiac arrest because of the ischemia (or shortage of oxygen within the body's tissues). You make it sound as if Mr McCartney could just jump on a bus or hop into his car and get to a place of work, as long as he has that heavy 'rucksack' with him, you know, the one with the 'heart pump' in it. The machine works from the mains electricity supply but has an emergency battery in case of power cut. Would you feel comfortable out and about without a guarantee of an electricity supply, bearing in mind you have about 10-15 seconds to find one if the machine powers down? Mr McCartney simply cannot work.

    Rate   45
  • daveroberts84  |  December 13 2012, 2:54PM

    Writing as an employer DWP put us in a terrible position that yes according to their spreadsheets etc he can work but I don't know of many that would be able to take a risk on the "what if" factor if he was to get hurt in our place of work. The insurance risk alone renders many that are "fit" to work unemployable through no fault of their own. I'm sure there are many that can work that don't but just becasue somebody fits a spreadsheet far from means anybody will take them on

    Rate   38
  • Ian_Heighton  |  December 13 2012, 2:26PM

    A friend of mine was in exactly the same position. He was on the Heart transplant list and his consultant told him not to work and he could die at any moment. The ATOS nurse said there was nothing major wrong and he should be back in work within 6 Weeks. The CAB said this was one of the worst benefit decisions they had ever seen and took up his case but it still took until the day before the appeal hearing for the Benefits Agency to decide that the consultant was right and the ATOS nurse was wrong

    Rate   33
  • hurculese  |  December 13 2012, 2:16PM

    DWP typical have a go at someone who has served our country has a heart pump to keep him alive there are a lot more people out there who can work or just to bone idle to get a job

    Rate   33
  • Cloth_Ears  |  December 13 2012, 1:26PM

    Pittacus 'Suggestions include working in a call-centre or working from home e.g. the following job advertised on this site. http://tinyurl.com/bl85enb' The full time role would suit people with experience of the following: Business Development Manager, BDM, Sales Manager, Area Sales Manager, Field Sales Executive, Field Sales Consultant, Field Sales Representative, Senior Sales Executive, Account Manager, Area Manager, Territory Manager, Key Account Manager. I'm not sure Mr. Smith would have aquired much sales experience working as a dog handler, do you 'Pittacus'? Even if he did judging by the grimmace on his face i dont think his customer service skills will be up to scratch.

    Rate   24
  • Littleimp  |  December 13 2012, 12:46PM

    ATOS is a disgrace any doctor or nurse working for them should be struck off. This is not a rare event there are plenty of these cases preying on the disabled and weak. My advise would be don't TURN UP to a ATOS assessment if you do they WILL declare you fit for work no matter your circumstances.

    Rate   38
  • Pittacus  |  December 13 2012, 12:13PM

    I do not completely agree with the other sentiments expressed here. Clearly Mr Smith is unfit to do work which is physically demanding and I have sympathy for his circumstances However, not all jobs require people to have perfect fitness and Mr Smith may be more suited to doing sedentary work. Suggestions include working in a call-centre or working from home e.g. the following job advertised on this site. http://tinyurl.com/bl85enb His ESA will continue to be paid until his appeal is heard. I would suggest he uses the interim period productively preparing his case and looking for suitable work

    Rate   -132
  • EASTLEIGH33  |  December 13 2012, 11:41AM

    I see the Mr McCartney fan club is out in force today...hence my sudden wave of red arrows for previous comment. Obviously people who have not been subjected to this ATOS farce. Point taken tho TB78WHINE. was not a particular fan of Ms MERRON either. Tho we will never know what she would have done would we? I stand by all my comments about the Aussie system tho..lived there for ten years and system works properly. Unlike this one.

    Rate   12