A TOP doctor and a cabinet councillor have claimed to have seen a rise in mental health concerns linked to benefit assessments.

At a Cheshire West and Chester Council health and wellbeing board meeting on Wednesday where suicide prevention was discussed, both key figures made a link between Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments and a growing number of residents in need of support for mental health issues.

Dr Chris Ritchieson, chairman of NHS West Cheshire clinical commissioning group, said: “Anecdotally, assessments have had an impact in general practice.

“A number of people thankfully don’t reach this level of crisis but do raise serious concerns related to this issue.

“It’s certainly something that has increased dramatically in recent years.”

ESA replaced incapacity benefit in 2008 with a stricter eligibility criteria designed to reduce the number of claimants – and reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants began in 2011.

The assessments are designed to determine if a person is unfit to work due to their disability or long-term illness.

Cllr Nicole Meardon, Labour CEC member for Sutton and cabinet member for children and young people, suggested that tougher benefit assessments had led to a rise in demand for mental health support.

She said: “In Ellesmere Port we set up some counselling to get people back into work, but it’s still overwhelming the number of people coming through.

“There seems to be a huge number of people in need of this support.”

But Helen Bromley, consultant in public health at CWAC, told the board that it is difficult to prove that stricter benefit assessments have led to a rising demand for mental health services in the borough.

“There might be a relationship but we don’t know what is responsible for what,” she said.

“It might not just be about ESA, it might be about the other things that are going on.”