Posts Tagged ‘World Health Organisation’

From 2011: Private Eye on Atos Throwing the Severely Disabled Off Benefits

April 11, 2014

This is from Private Eye’s edition for the 9th – 22nd December 2011.

ATOS

Unfit For Purpose

The government’s proposal to stop GPs writing sick notes for long-term illness and hand the work to “independent assessors” has private companies rubbing their hands. Bit it has alarmed those who far that patients will have to endure the same type of tick-box assessments as those needing benefits, as carried out by Atos.

The huge French service company has been slated by MPs and charities over its health and capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, leading to wrong decisions in up to 40 percent of cases and causing “fear, anxiety and distress” to many disabled people.

Now an Atos insider tells the Eye that, under pressure from government to produce figures showing the number of claimants coming off benefits, coupled with competition to run the multi-million-pound contract, the situation may get worse. In the past 12 months a number of experienced doctors have left the company because they no longer want to part of a “target-driven” system that they say is unfair to the claimants and compromises their professionalism. One said it was “immoral”.

They have not apparently been replaced, and most medical assessments are now carried out by n8urses, who are less expensive – but would have fewer skills in musculo-skeletal disorders or mental illness, two of the main causes of disability.

For those who have been assessed by Atos, the result can be devastating. Secretary Debbie, 44, has been unable to work since a brain haemorrhage 14 years ago left her needing regular nerve-blocking injections into the head and intravenous drug treatment. She suffers from excruciating headaches and is partially sighted.

Her consultant detailed in a letter how her “excruciating” chronic cluster headaches and migraine were rated by the World Health Organisation as “one of the most disabling chronic disorders”. In August she saw an Atos assessor – a doctor, not a nurse – who appeared sympathetic. However, Debbie and her partner say the assessor then made false statements about the examination, saying an eye had been carried out when it hadn’t and bizarrely alleging that she self-harms, which she says she has never done.

The DWP then told Debbie her incapacity benefit would be replaced by employment support allowance (ESA) and that she must attend work-related activity group meetings (WRAG) seven miles from her home. If she fails to attend she will lose her benefits. She told the Eye: “my consultant, my GP, everyone says there’s no way I can work. I can’t see very well, I bang into things, I can’t even make a cup of tea without spilling boiling water. I can’t travel unattended … Yet according to Atos I’m able to work.” Having lost her appeal against having to attend the activity group, Debbie is to file a formal complaint about the Atos doctor to the General Medical Council.

Similarly, in April 2009, Mike, a 52-year-old academic, was found to have a brain tumour the size of a squash ball after he collapsed and had a massive seizure. Six weeks of radiotherapy reduced its size, and Mike has remained stable – although he relies on strong anti-convulsants to keep epilepsy, seizures and focal fits at bay – and is exhausted after short periods of mental or physical activity. Two months after the diagnosis he was ordered to attend an Atos assessment and was found to be capable of work.

Mike has found that the DWP had hidden information showing that people with terminal illness, like him, should not have had to undergo such an assessment, and that any assessment that does take place should be by an expert. But it took him two years of appeals to obtain his entitlements. His battle for compensation continues.

This confirms the other reports that Atos are instructed to find a certain percentage as fit for work, in order for them to be thrown off benefits. I’d also come across elsewhere the information that some of the doctors initially involved in the assessments had left because of its immorality and unprofessionalism. And from my own experience and those of some of the commenters here, and the reports of other bloggers like Jayne Linney I know that Atos lies and falsifies its medical reports to get the results it desires.

There is some useful information here for those seeking to challenge Atos. The article’s statement that terminally ill people should not have to undergo assessment may be of some help to some of the others challenging their assessments. Atos has a long history of declaring medically capable of finding work people so tragically afflicted. Jayne Linney has suggested that as many as 55,000 people a year may have died after being assessed by Atos. If only a small proportion of these were diagnosed as terminally ill by their doctors, then it means that Atos has been massively in breach of regulations. Which is probably why bloggers such as Mike over at Vox Political have been refused this information, and denounced as ‘vexatious’ by the DWP for daring to do so.