We (including Prof Harrington) have lost sight of some of the basics. They are not to do with politics or health particularly, just sound management best-practice. At present, we are in a steady downward spiral – more decision errors, more appeals and longer queues, all making it harder to measure what is really going on. Improving the right-first-time rate is the logical place to start reversing the trend.
The quality of any discrimination process (which is essentially what the WCA is - FFW or not FFW) is judged by its error rate in both directions – false-positives and false-negatives as the statisticians say. It is not just about the proportion of errors, but also their size – are they just at the margins or at the extremes? The latter would be for example declaring terminally ill people fit for work – something we know has happened and the type of error that is wholly unacceptable and totally avoidable. The errors at the margins are far tougher to eliminate, so we have to be a bit more tolerant.
No discrimination process is perfect and in the same way that occasionally people are wrongly sent to prison despite the rigours of the process, we have to accept the fact that even the very best WCA process will make some errors – the question is from a compassionate and humanitarian standpoint, what error rate we would regard as “acceptable” realistically. Once we have a view on this, we can think about whether or not the current process is capable of achieving it – if it is not, the sooner we realise it the better. As it is, everyone assumes it can but in honesty how can anyone say when we have no idea what we are aiming for?
Measuring the first-time decision errors against all WCAs undertaken, suggests it is around 8 – 10%, so the questions for HMG are (hoping to extract straight answers):
1) Does it regard this as acceptable?
2) Can it prove the improvement it claims through the changes implemented over the past 4 years?
3) What success rate is it aiming for? Having an ambition is perfectly reasonable, indeed desirable. [It will of course avoid answering this at all costs, but if they do not know, how will they know when we get there – no point looking for further improvement if we have reached the ceiling as it’s a complete waste of time and money].
4) Is the current process capable of reaching this ambition:
· If yes, what specific changes are needed to bridge the gap?
· If no, when does the re-think start?
My own view on 1) is possibly yes as long as they are just at the margins and are resolved quickly – a subject for debate.