This week the sixth International Forum on Disability Management, IFDM 2012, takes place at Imperial College London. It is sponsored by some of the world’s largest medical insurance companies, Unum among them, and speakers include DWP chief medical adviser Dr Bill Gunyeon and Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, formerly DWP chief medical adviser and director of the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, which was sponsored by Unum from its inception in 2003 until 2009.
Unum’s website states that during this sponsorship period “a series of papers was published, identifying the range of factors that determine why some people become long-term absentees”. The Cardiff papers advocated a “biopsychosocial model” of disability which Unum says “informed its approach to medical underwriting”. It is the same approach upon which the current Atos work capability assessment (WCA) is based. Concomitantly, the company were advising the UK government on welfare reform.
On 4 September, during an emergency debate on Atos and the WCA held in parliament, Labour MP Kevin Brennan demanded to know if DWP minister Chris Grayling was as concerned as he was “that Atos’s chief medical officer is one Professor Michael O’Donnell, who was previously employed as chief medical officer by the American insurance company, Unum, which was described by the insurance commissioner for California, John Garamendi, as an ‘outlaw company’ that has operated in an unlawful fashion for many years, running (disability) claims denial factories.”
We condemn the Royal Society of Medicine’s decision to host IFDM 2012. By so doing, it has lent an aura of legitimacy to a pseudo-scientific approach to disability that is as far from evidence-based medicine as it is possible to imagine. It is an approach that continues to devastate the lives of patients, scores of whom are tragically no longer with us as a direct result.
These for-profit corporations should never have been permitted to sequester such power and influence over public health and social policy. There may be clear conflicts of interest at stake, and the public interest now demands an urgent and thorough independent public inquiry into the relationships between, and roles played by, senior Unum, Atos and DWP staff in the creation of the current government disability assessment regime.
John McArdle and Dr Stephen Carty Black Triangle Campaign and 449 co-signatories (see http://bit.ly/Pi4z4D)