Critics of welfare policy are "wrong" to claim people are dying because of benefit decisions, a Tory minister has claimed.

Priti Patel said it was "impossible" to draw such conclusions from statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions earlier in the year.

The SNP's welfare spokeswoman Eilidh Whiteford said the figures showed 90 people a month died shortly after being assessed as fit for work and losing benefits as a result.

In the first clashes of the Commons term, she said: "Do you accept the assessment process for determining whether someone is fit for work is simply not fit for purpose?"

Answering at work and pensions questions, Ms Patel said: "The department recently published fully quality assured, age standardised mortality statistics in line with ONS (Office for National Statistics), and to the standard of national statistics.

"It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out of work benefit and for the record, it is impossible to draw any causality from these statistics. Not only that, it is completely wrong to do so.

"I should add that any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond these figures is wrong. Two national newspapers did try to do that and they have also just published an apology for their incorrect reporting."

Ms Whiteford urged ministers to "take their heads out of the sand", adding: "It's clear they are abdicating responsibility for very sick people."

Figures released in August showed during the period December 2011 to February 2014, 2,380 people died after their claim for employment and support allowance (ESA) ended because a work capability assessment (WCA) found they were found fit for work.

The statistics were released following a freedom of information request. A briefing note attached to the data said: "Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith also accused Labour MP Debbie Abrahams of wanting to "sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse".

Ms Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) said the Government's data showed people in the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity category are "twice as likely to die" than the general population.

She asked Mr Duncan Smith: "How can you justify £30 a week cuts to people in that group?"

Mr Duncan Smith replied: "Can I say to you that you put out a series of blogs on the mortality stats last week which were fundamentally wrong, and therefore your use of figures is quite often incorrect.

"I simply say to you, you've had an offer to meet my honourable friend time and time again but she just wants to sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse."