Published: 00:01, 02 April 2014
An Ashford mother in constant pain from an incurable condition has been denied a Kent Police pension after being sacked on ill-health grounds – in case she recovers.
Maxine Difford, 40, struggles every day with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is a rare and poorly understood chronic pain condition.
She was dismissed due to ill health from Kent Police, where she had worked as a team leader in the control room for more than 11 years.
Maxine, who managed up to 17 members of staff, understood she would qualify to receive her pension early.
But since leaving her post in May last year, the force has refused to give her any financial support – saying she might be well enough to work again before she is 65.
The distraught mother-of-one blames a lack of understanding about her debilitating condition for leaving her family struggling to survive.
Maxine, Imperial Way, Singleton, said: "Initially they were good to me and helped me where they can. I worked from home for a while but eventually they dismissed me.
"I was led to believe that if I was dismissed on ill health grounds then I would be able to claim my pension. They talked as if I was going to get it.
"CRPS is incurable. I have gone into remission once, but I have done lots of research and it is very unlikely to happen again."
Maxine was diagnosed with CRPS after a skiing accident when she was aged 16.
She has had 25 operations trying to alleviate the condition, but nothing has worked.
Maxine is on the highest prescribable dose of Oxycontin – a synthetic painkiller of codeine and morphine – to try and make day-to-day living bearable.
"It started off feeling like I have a dagger twisting in my knee and now it affects most of my leg and feels like my whole leg is on fire and I can't put it out..." - Maxine Difford
But she is still so sore she cannot enjoy hugging her seven-year-old son Robbie.
She added: "The drugs only take the edge off the pain. It is excruciating.
"It started off feeling like I have a dagger twisting in my knee and now it affects most of my leg and feels like my whole leg is on fire and I can't put it out.
"I just want to be doing all the things you take for granted with a little boy. I want to be taking him to the park, playing, cuddling."
Maxine said she was told in July last year that her application for a pension had been declined on the grounds the independent expert who assessed her had said she might recover by the time she is 65.
The practitioner wrote: "The evidence supports that at the current time her symptoms would prevent her from doing her substantive role but not that she has a reduced likelihood of being capable of undertaking any gainful employment before her normal retirement age."
Maxine appealed the decision and was referred to a second independent medical practitioner, but lost her case.
However, CRPS expert Gill Thurlow, consultant nurse at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, who treats Maxine, said: "Every person with CRPS presents differently and has a different prognosis.
"We would expect 70% of patients to get back to work, but it depends on the speed of diagnosis.
"We saw Maxine when she was about 15 years down the line. I do not believe Maxine would be fit enough to return to an office-based job.
"There is a problem with early diagnosis. Some GPs have never seen this condition before."
Maxine's husband Ricky, 46, who runs a property maintenance business, said: "I think it's absolutely disgraceful that they haven’t given Max her pension."
Many cases of CRPS are misdiagnosed, but it is estimated that one in 3,800 people in the UK suffer from the condition and three in four of those are women.
Kent Police said in a statement: "We are not able to comment on individual cases, though can confirm that the organisation both meets and, in some cases exceeds, the guidelines set out by ACAS.
"The force has no discretion around the regulations outlined in the local government pension policy and, should someone fail to meet the criteria for benefits within the scheme, the decision cannot be overturned by any individual within the organisation.
"Kent Police will fully cooperate with any complaint made to the Pensions Ombudsman."
Under government guidelines, employers can dismiss staff if they cannot fulfill their role and there are "no reasonable adjustments that can be made".
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