Story by Claire Elliot
ONE of the world’s longest surviving kidney dialysis patients has hit out at the UK Government’s “Nazi” tactics after being declared fit to work - despite suffering a string of health problems associated with 33 years of renal treatment, four failed transplants and 14 heart attacks.
And Paul Mickleburgh, 53, blames the “cruel and nasty” welfare reforms, to get more people off benefits and back to work, for his latest heart attack three weeks ago.
The father-of-three, who was diagnosed with renal failure when he was just 19, was forced to give up his job as a technician 20 years ago after his body rejected a forth donor kidney.
He is so ill doctors have taken him off the transplant list as he would not survive a fifth procedure and will spend the rest of his life on dialysis.
The machine, which cleans his blood, is now the only thing keeping him alive.
But after more than three decades hooked up to it for five hours, three days a week, other organs, including his heart, are also failing.
The Government insists that
under its new Employment and Support Allowance scheme, which replaces incapacity benefit, “those found to be too sick or disabled to work won’t be expected to”.
But Mr Mickleburgh, from Aberdeen, who has also battled cancer, pneumonia, heart failure and suffers spontaneous internal bleeding and brittle bones, revealed that he has been placed in a work-related activity group.
This requires him to attend meetings and go out and find work or his benefits will be cut.
People in this group also get a lower rate of benefit.
Mr Mickleburgh said: “How ill do I need to be to pass their test? Apart from being dead, I don’t know how I can get much worse. It makes me so angry.
“I was asked to tell them all my illnesses and when I had finished it was a page and a half.
“I enclosed all my medical history, medication, dialysis times, and what it does to me after being on it for 33 years. But to my great shock I have been passed fit for work under these new rules and must attend work focus interviews and do everything possible to find work or lose my benefits.
“I don’t think they have bothered to read the forms.
“I’d liken this to what the Nazis did, working the disabled and the sick until they dropped dead and were no longer a burden.”
Mr Mickleburgh,, who has a mechanical prosthetic valve fitted in his heart, a twisted bowel, and suffers agonising joint pain as a result of prolonged renal treatment, has now written to his MP, Malcolm Bruce.
He needs pain killers just to get him through each dialysis session and it takes him days to recover.
He also gets breathless just walking from room to room and has so little strength that opening a jar is a struggle.
Mr Mickleburgh wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions urging them to reconsider his position but his plea was rejected.
He was told in a letter: “You must take part in work-focused interviews with a personal adviser to continue to receive Employment and Support Allowance in full.
“The advisor will help you take reasonable steps to move towards work.”
Mr Mickleburgh, who takes almost 20 medications a day, said he believed it was “all to save money and they don’t care who they upset“.
“I loved my job and if I could go back I would.
“But it’s unrealistic and unreasonable to expect me to attend these meetings when there is no realistic prospects of an improvement in my health.
“I’m on dialysis three days a week and because I have been on it for so long now, it takes me days to recover from it.
“No one is going to employ someone like me who is going to be off six days a week.
“I’m worried sick about these changes and I believe I took my last heart attack due to this cruel and nasty policy which makes the disabled person feel they are a burden.“
Mr Mickleburgh, who played football and was in the Territorial Army Royal Engineers before he fell ill, added: “My wife and children have all worked since leaving school. We’re not a benefit family on the take. I'm not too bothered about the money, it's the fact they find me fit for work.”
He also suffers from chronic fatigue, has an enlarged heart, which as well as a prosthetic valve is fitted with three stents to help open up damaged heart veins.
He has a weak immune system leaving him prone to repeated infections and an unstable heart beat, which can beat as fast as 122 beats per minutes when he is doing nothing.
He suffers from eye cataracts and so much pain in his back, hand and legs, it keeps him up at night.
He said: “I’ve still got my own kidneys and because they have rotted away they cause horrendous pain in my side. They can’t take them out because I’m too ill for them to do the operation,
“They won’t give my an anaesthetic any more because the last operation I had to clean my bladder out, they had trouble bringing me out of it. It took them about half an hour to get my blood pressure up.”
His wife, Joyce, who runs her own dog grooming business, said: “I understand that they’ve got to sort out the benefits, but there are better ways to go about it.
“It makes me really angry because you could see the stress on him and then he had his heart attack.
“There is just no way he can go to these meetings let alone go to work. When he comes off the machine he goes home to bed and I don’t see him until the next day, he‘s so exhausted.
“What’s he to do, kart the machine around behind him? It’s crazy. I don’t think they’ve read anything, they’re just making him another statistic.”
She added: “He was really disappointed when he had to give it up his job. He loved his work and it took him a good few years to come to terms with it.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said they did not comment on individual cases.
But she said: "We shouldn't automatically write off a person's ability to work, solely on the basis of a health condition or disability.
“The assessment for Employment Support Allowance doesn't focus on a particular diagnosis, but on the actual abilities of an individual, and whether that person - with the right support - could undertake suitable work.
"Everyone has the right to appeal a benefit decision they do not agree with. Employment Support Allowance continues to be paid pending an appeal, so claimants are not left without an income.”
Mr Mickleburgh with his wife Joyce
Mr Mickleburgh with his letter from the Department for Work