Seriously ill cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy could face “back to work” tests or have benefits removedGovernment report said receiving automatic benefits could “encourage dependency” among cancer patients

Thousands of cancer patients undergoing gruelling chemotherapy treatments could be forced to prove they are too sick to work, charities have warned.

The proposed changes are buried in a review by Professor Malcolm Harrington of the Work Capability Assessment.

The government adviser has included proposals to force cancer patients undergoing intravenous chemotherapy treatments to attend back-to-work interviews or be denied a crucial benefit.

A patient receives chemotherapy treatment in hospital for cancer. Macmillan fears such patients may have to attend

A patient receives chemotherapy treatment in hospital. Macmillan fears such patients may have to attend “back to work” interviews

At present, patients unable to work because of the side-effects of non-oral cancer treatments receive the highest rate of employment support allowance, worth around 100 a week.

This payment was made to 9,000 patients between October 2008 and June 2010.

However, the report said granting the benefit to chemotherapy patients automatically removed “the ability or chance for someone to work during their treatment if they felt able to do so”.

It added that the model may also be “stigmatising cancer as something that can automatically lead to unemployment or worklessness.”

It concluded that it was “working through” changes to the current guidelines.

Macmillan Cancer Support had recommended that cancer patients receiving oral chemotherapy or radiotherapy should have the same protection as those taking non-oral chemotherapy.

But the charity said instead of extending exemptions to particularly vulnerable cancer patients, the Government is proposing to remove these from all.

The announcement comes despite the Government’s repeated assurances that they had no interest in making it harder for cancer patients to access benefits while they are undergoing debilitating treatment.

Ciarn Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Cancer patients in the middle of treatment are, in many cases, fighting for their lives.

“Yet the Government is proposing to change the rules so all cancer patients will have to undergo a stressful assessment to prove they are unable to work.

“This shows a clear disregard and misunderstanding of what it’s like to undergo punishing treatment. Patients who previously had peace of mind would face the stress and practical difficulties of getting assessed for work they are too poorly to do.”

He added: “To make matters worse, the Government is pressing ahead with proposed changes in the Welfare Reform Bill that will make 7,000 cancer patients lose ESA after 12 months simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.

“We hope ministers will rethink these proposals and listen to the clear views of the cancer community. Cancer is the toughest fight many people will have to face, the Government should not be making it tougher for them.”

A spokesman from the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “We have not made any changes to the WCA and how it affects cancer patients. ‪

“The proposals within the Harrington review are just that, and having worked with Macmillan and others, we will continue to discuss with them how the WCA should work.

“This issue is an incredibly important and sensitive one for many people, which is why Professor Harrington has worked so closely with cancer charities.

“Everyone agrees that for some people being able to continue working or getting back into work after diagnosis is important and we want the WCA to effectively reflect that.”