Anne Gardiner, the author of this post was a health professional, medically discharged from the WRAF in 1984 and awarded a War Pension for life. Over time, as her condition continued to deteriorate, she requested a review of her pension and was confronted in her home by a doctor from Atos Healthcare, who refused to provide any form of ID, and then produced a bogus report by claiming to have conducted a detailed physical examination when no examination took place. This is Anne’s story….
DISABILITY DENIAL FACTORIES WORKING WELL IN THE UK….
Masquerading as medical assessments, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) engaged the services of a private contractor whose medical staff can intimidate, harass, bully and ultimately deny chronically disabled War Pensioners increases in medical pensions, whilst the Service Pensions and Veterans Agency (SPVA) – a branch of the DWP – still claim to be concerned with the welfare of veterans.
All veterans medically discharged before 2005 are now at the mercy of Atos Healthcare medical staff, who conduct in excess of 700,000 government medical assessments annually on anyone in receipt of disability benefits or War Pensions. Atos Healthcare claim to employ the largest number of doctors outside of the NHS, yet they enjoy ‘total immunity from any medical regulation’ according to the General Medical Council(GMC) and the Care Quality Commission(CQC). Meanwhile, the DWP remain resistant to mounting evidence that the chronically sick and disabled people of this nation are reduced to being little more than government statistics; to be removed from the increasing costs of the welfare budget.
I was medically discharged from the WRAF medical services in 1984 and awarded a War Pension for life. Due to increasing disabilities a doctor from Atos Healthcare, claiming to be a Disability Analyst, visited my home to undertake another deterioration assessment on behalf of the Service Pensions and Veterans Agency (SPVA), who administer my War Pension. However, I didn’t realise that this doctor would be prepared to compromise medical ethics to supply a totally bogus medical report, given that no medical examination whatsoever took place. His report simply copied verbatim parts of a previous detailed medical examination from 2006, undertaken by a retired RAF doctor.
This arrogant Atos Healthcare doctor actually attempted to intimidate me in my own home, repeatedly refused to show any ID, deliberately chose to sit facing the opposite direction to me making eye contact impossible, and he refused to permit me to speak freely by silencing me with a wave of his hand. This unethical doctor’s instructions were that I was only “permitted” to answer questions he deemed necessary to ask; he treated me with utter contempt and then sniggered at me as he left my home to write his totally bogus report that he knew would be accepted without challenge. As a consequence, the SPVA presumed that I had attempted to make a bogus claim and my War Pension was changed from an interim award to FINAL, which makes sure I can never claim again, yet this was for a diagnosed condition that can only continue to deteriorate over time.
If he had prepared better, this unethical doctor would have known that I am a retired health professional and more than capable of challenging any bogus medical report. He was very confident, callous and arrogant because the government contract with this company confirms that medical reports provided by Atos Healthcare will be given ‘priority’. In reality, any and all medical evidence provided by the claimant or their doctors, including Consultants, will not be accessed by the ‘Disability Analyst’ conducting the medical assessment. Therefore, one must wonder why all claimants are required to provide detailed medical testimony that will be totally ignored, as confirmed in letters from Atos Healthcare management.
The DWP Decision Makers, who are basic grade administrators, make decisions about benefits and medical pensions when dealing with medical opinion for which they are totally unqualified, and this system is very successful as countless thousands of genuinely sick and chronically disabled people are being rejected for the financial help they are entitled to expect. These ‘disability denial factories’ were copied from UNUM – formerly Unum Provident – in America and are now working very well in the UK yet, ironically, this American insurance corporate giant were actually banned in fifteen states in America, and several countries world wide, including New Zealand, as being totally ‘unfit for purpose.’ Yet UNUM are DWP advisers for welfare reform having been identified, in 2009, by the American Association for Justice as the 2nd worst insurance company in America….
In reality, the genuine long-term sick, the disabled and now even the dying are all under attack, including chronically disabled older veterans, whilst the general public applaud the introduction of these so-called welfare reforms, convinced by government propaganda that most of us are work shy scroungers.
One such victim is a 53-year-old man known as Mike Bach, who is terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumour. As the months pass and he weakens with each passing week, Mike has fallen victim to ever increasing numbers of Grand Mal epileptic fits, which are totally unpredictable but average three fits per day. He is now virtually housebound. However, despite a catastrophic diagnosis, Mike received threatening letters from the DWP insisting that he should have yet another medical assessment, which required a 2-hour journey via public transport. Only the threat of legal action stopped this callous abuse. The government contract with Atos Healthcare actually identifies the terminally ill as being totally exempt from such scrutiny, but this concession is limited to those with less than six months to live when terminal cancer victims may indeed survive much longer but the treatments are debilitating.
By definition, when care, concern, compassion and human dignity are removed from medical assessment the only thing left is medical tyranny. There are countless and increasing numbers of victims of this corporate medical tyranny against profoundly ill and disabled people, but where are the protests from MPs? Yet another example of civil servants and politicians dreaming up regulations about a vast subject area they clearly know nothing about….. In my clinical opinion, this is very dangerous.
Another deeply disturbing example of this government funded medical tyranny was when friends were refused help for their profoundly disabled 5 year-old son. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) had been requested to provide the family with a Motability car, and the application was supported by both the family GP and the boy’s Consultant Paediatrician. However, the DWP required confirmation by Atos Healthcare and so the family were visited by a contracted Physiotherapist. The Atos Physio’s medical report actually claimed the child may have problems climbing stairs due to “frequent ear infections” and totally failed to mention the fact that the little boy had a profound physical disability, with legs almost at right angles to his torso, so he is totally unable ever to walk, run or to climb stairs. A strongly worded observational report by myself, as a retired health professional, did it seems help to support the application for DLA, which was finally granted at Appeal. Yet where is the reprimand for a health professional that knowingly provides a totally bogus medical report and willingly compromises her oath of office?? Where are the consequences for this company breaching the DWP contract, at will, at a cost to this nation of £100 million per annum? Reprimands don’t exist as the DWP hang on every word reported by the contractor in order to reduce costs, and the welfare of the victims of this medical tyranny is clearly of no concern to the DWP.
It’s an absurd irony that this medical evaluation system was created to prevent bogus benefit claims yet, in reality, it can be easily demonstrated that at least some Atos Healthcare medical staff create totally bogus medical reports. Consecutive annual reports by His Honour Judge Robert Martin, when President of the Appeal Tribunals, all challenged the medical reports of this company confirming that they “ did not coincide with reality” yet the DWP persistently ignore all reported evidence and no action has been taken. Access to emails between the Medical Director(MD) of Atos Healthcare, Dr David Beswick, and Dr Paul Kitchen at the SPVA, have been most revealing. Indeed, Dr Beswick refused to provide a personal reply to my letters, with his opinion always offered via the National Customer Relations Manager, Mr Brian Pepper. Email exchanges between these two senior doctors confirm that this company MD refused to commit to writing anything as the General Medical Council (GMC) “…will investigate every word written so I must be cautious.” Therefore, Dr Beswick’s clear priority is limiting any possible investigation by the GMC and not patient/claimant welfare. In a letter received from Dr Kitchen, he actually confirmed that ATOS Healthcare were “not prepared to investigate” my concerns at all until he became involved, yet one needs to enquire why he had not been informed of my complaint months earlier given that it is a contract requirement for Atos to report all complaints within two days. Clearly, there is no supervision whatsoever of this contractor and, instead of supervision we find adoration, as everyone at the DWP and the SPVA hang on every word produced by Atos Healthcare and presume it to be true. Hence, overwhelming evidence from the victims of this government funded medical tyranny can be dismissed. This is a dangerous precedent and should be stopped.
Atos Healthcare isn’t needed in the UK and the Minister for Welfare Reform is in serious need of education as he is all powerful, yet unelected. Lord Freud continues to demonstrate that his knowledge of chronic ill health is none existent, so the question needs to be asked as to why does he have such authority when his past is in finance, not welfare?
In a very lengthy letter recently received from a DWP Correspondence Manager he now claims: “Under this contract there is no actual requirement for Atos Healthcare to notify the Department, in this case the SPVA, that they have received a complaint from a customer.” This is alarming, given that this Correspondence Manager must have a different copy of the contract when compared to mine, and the only “customers” involved here are the DWP. This may now explain why Dr Kitchen can visit War Pension Committees around the country and insist that there are “…only 24 complaints for every 7,000 medical examinations by this company.” Yet, without any monitoring or supervision, if the company refuse to advise the authority that they’ve had complaints, how will the SPVA or the DWP ever know?
The 500 page DWP contract requires Atos Healthcare to acknowledge all letters within 5 days of receipt but they don’t. The contractor is required to advise the authority when they receive a complaint, they are certainly meant to advise the results of any complaint investigation within 20 days and, most important, they are required to provide a specialist medical opinion for several conditions including all cases of terminal cancer, and musculo-skeletal disorders but, quite simply, they don’t. Eventually, I decided it was time that the SPVA were advised of my shockingly unacceptable experience and, if not for me, the SPVA would still not know that I had been in a dispute with this private contractor for over 9 months without them knowing.
Even more sinister, the contract requires the DWP to monitor the activities of this private contractor yet, in a lengthy letter sent to a dying man, the Manager of the DWP Commercial Management of Medical Services (CMMS) freely admits to Mike that no monitoring has taken place but, of course, there have been regular meetings with this contractor to confirm “performance targets.” She uses language chosen to confuse but in her letter Hilary Brierley confirms that “… the Department has not exercised its contractual right to access for purposes of auditing Atos Healthcare’s compliance with its contractual obligations.” Someone, somewhere should surely ask this woman why she thinks that breaching a £100million per annum government contract can be reduced to a “contractual right” as opposed to a contractual obligation?
Almost 2 years after my application for a reconsideration of my War Pension, it was finally and suddenly increased, and backdated, following a visit by a Consultant acting on behalf of the Appeal Tribunal, and not in the employ of Atos Healthcare. The Appeal Tribunal was therefore allowed to lapse, just weeks before the planned hearing, and my RAFA Representative felt that this was “… very, very rare and a huge climb down by the SPVA” and coincided with Dr Kitchen discovering that I had access to his email exchanges with Dr Beswick…..
It’s time to stop treating all the sick and disabled people of our country as scrounging benefit cheats and start dealing with a private contractor that is all powerful, and whose staff breach the DWP contract daily because no-one cares enough to monitor them. There is no supervision, as claimed by the DWP. The DWP CMMS staff simply invites the opinion of the company, then repeats it verbatim to anyone making an enquiry or a complaint. This isn’t supervision it’s adoration, as encouraged by the DWP. Perhaps it’s time to invite the Secretary of State for Justice to explain why this breach of a £multi million government contract is encouraged with full DWP approval?
It is clinically unprecedented for the medical opinion of a junior doctor, identified as a Disability Analyst, to supersede the opinion of a Consultant who, by definition, is a medical expert. It’s time to get back to reality. We have almost three million genuinely sick or chronically disabled people in the UK in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, and some of us are veterans disabled in the service of our country. It’s time to tell the DWP that illness costs money and they should stop terrorising their own people just because the government have bankrupted the country and the sick and disabled make very easy targets.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“Never believe anything unless it is first denied.”
“Never underestimate the power of persistence.”
(Anne Gardiner is a pseudonym)
Retired health professional
War Pensioner (WRAF)
1st March 2011
CAVEAT: It is believed that Unum Insurance, or their predecessor or subsidiary companies, are no longer banned from operating in the US. This is since the company agreed to financial settlements with the DoH of all states, and since the company agreed to pay significant compensation.
It is not known whether Unum Insurance, or their predecessor or subsidiary companies, in particular Unum Provident Insurance, has agreed liability. Unum Insurance are still processing compensation claims years later.
There is anecdotal evidence that the processing of some of the claims are taking a very long time but, to date, there is no evidence to confirm that there is a Unum policy to delay compensation payments.
Given that the reputation of an Unum predecessor or subsidiary company was tainted by the involvement, including the “a priori” company name of “the Unum Provident Insurance”, it is reasonable to suppose that the change of name to “Unum Insurance” is an attempt to distance the current Unum operations from the past. It is believed that Unum feel that they are now in a position to be able to deny past culpability. Unum claim, in the US, that they have changed procedures.
It is believed Unum are funding large marketing campaigns in their target markets. Some believe that Unum are using their influence to censor and shut down websites which continue to publish past activities of Unum and its predecessor or subsidiary companies. A number of these websites have been set up by the dying, the sick, the disabled and their carers. I leave it to you and history to judge how much the attitude of Unum has changed.
All wish that Unum has truly changed. Unum could demonstrate this if they seek dialogue with their distractors and ask the website publisher to amend any published statements that they disagree with. Unfortunately Unum appears, to many, to be attempting to rewrite history and is attempting to cleanse the knowledge of a discreditable past.
The reasons for the removal of a BBC transcript (republished here dwpatosveterans.html#unumbbc), from 2007, which identified Unum Provident Insurance as a discredited corporate insurance giant, are, at this time, unknown.
(as of 25th August 2011)