Heart-op dad told to go back to work

Nigel Hopkins
Nigel Hopkins
Have your say

A dad recovering from open heart surgery and a week-long coma was ordered to go back to work despite suffering from a string of serious medical conditions.

Nigel Hopkins, 38, was born with aortic stenosis, where a heart valve becomes paralysed, and had a mechanical valve inserted as an emergency three months ago, along with metal pins in his sternum.

Following his surgery, he went into a coma and he also suffers from epilepsy, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and takes more than 30 prescription drugs a day.

Mr Hopkins has been receipt of £70 a week Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on and off since 2009 because of his inability to work.

Last week, he received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), saying he is now deemed fit to work because after missing his latest assessment on May 7, and his allowance would be stopped.

The former joiner of Lockhart Road, Deepdale, Preston, claims he did not receive the invitation to the assessment.

After the Evening Post spoke to the DWP, the decision to stop Mr Hopkin’s allowance has been reversed pending a further assessment, but the news had not been passed on to Mr Hopkins.

However, he confirmed last night the ESA payment has now been paid into his account following the LEP’s intervention.

The father-of-two said: “This honestly makes me not trust anyone. I was worried about where I’d go from here and to put a roof over my sons’ heads. I struggle to cope with everyday tasks like making a cup of tea.

“Because of my fits, I’ve poured boiling water on myself, dropped a kettle, fallen on to the cooker, and I’ve fallen down the stairs.

“I’ve also got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from my time living in the Dominican Republic where I saw people being shot.

“I wake up in the night panicking, and I can’t leave the house without being sick. Because of this, I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Mr Hopkins said that he gets a different decision on whether he is fit to work every time he attends an Atos medical. Atos Healthcare carry out medical assessments on behalf of the DWP and send the information to the government department for a decision.

Mr Hopkins said: “Last October I went for an Atos medical and the woman didn’t medically assess me, she sat 10ft away and did an interview. Then she told me there was nothing wrong with me. I think she should go and work for my cardiologist, because she can do from 10ft away what he can’t do with millions of pounds of equipment.”

When his benefits were stopped after the October assessment, he was unable to buy them Christmas presents and was unable to get a grant to buy furniture for a house.

His ESA was then reinstated in January after a new claim was entered.

Disability charities have criticised the ESA assessment procedures as ‘badly designed’. A Scope spokesman said: “We need a back-to-work system that works for disabled people. Disabled people are pushing hard to find work. But they face massive challenges – too often they don’t get the right kind of support and work places are not flexible enough.”

The Evening Post reported last year how between April 2010 and 2012, of the 2,660 people in Preston to be assessed, 53 per cent were deemed fit for work.

A DWP spokesman said: “Mr Hopkins told us he was unable to attend his Work Capability Assessment due to not receiving the letter, not because of a health condition.

“We have now reviewed his claim and have re-instated his ESA payments on the basis of medical evidence.”

Atos Healthcare said it passed on information about the missed appointment to the DWP and had no further involvement in the case.