Here’s a new development for you and one worth adding to the sum of your experiences, if you are progressing through the minefield generated by Atos Origin Healthcare. Not surprisingly, they seem to live up to their name and couldn’t give ‘a toss’ but they inconvenience whilst they are busy making pots of money. This company making pots of money because they are supposed to have taken over making the medical assessment for Employments and Support Allowance.
You may recall how Atos paid absolutely no attention to the dreadful state of Dave ‘s mental health and made him an appointment to go for a medical in Sunderland town centre. When Atos were supplied with all the proof they needed that they could only make the medical assessment by visiting Dave in his home, they then tried to talk to him on the telephone about this… even when they were told that Dave was too nervous to take such a call. Fortunately, there was an answering machine and this took all the calls. I was reduced to sending them a letter and an e-mail copy to the CEO of Atos, demanding that they desist doing this (which they did, as the calls abruptly stopped just after the morning post is usually delivered to most offices). The experiences of other people point to the fact that there is absolutely no future in trying to discuss anything with Atos over the phone. They are arrogant, they don’t listen to what you tell them, they make out they haven’t received calls that you have made, sometimes they don’t even answer the phone and so on. The only way to deal with these people is in writing, as there is no deniability left!
When it became obvious that there was absolutely no way that Atos were going to be able to do the medical in question without making a home visit, they took ‘another lock’ at Dave’s case notes and decided to pass the matter through at what they called “scrutiny level.” Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this says that they have taken a look at the case, have realised that Dave’s mental health is so bad that he doesn’t NEED a medical examination and passed the matter back to the DWP!
Well, you only be partly right in this assumption, but I won’t spoil the plot. The next thing I know is that Dave gets a letter from the DWP inviting him along to a friendly chat and telling him that he has been assigned to the Work Related Group. I should take time out to explain that there are two groups to which and ESA claimant can be assigned, after there has been a medical examination. The Work Related Group attempts to find employment for chronically sick and disabled people, on the grounds that they are scroungers and benefit cheats… the fact that only a tiny percentage of benefits claimants are fraudsters seems not to matter to this particular government. Having successfully demonised disabled people (presumably because they are a group in society least well equipped to fight back) and somehow got away with it, nobody much cares what happens to these people. So successful has the programme of demonisation been, that disabled people are being victimised by members of the general public! I’m not going to explore the social responsibility (or lack of it) demonstrated by this government, in this matter, at this time (suffice it to say that it is obviously wanting). Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I can get a little exercised on the matter of social injustice!
The other group to which ESA claimants can be assigned is the Support Group and this is the people who are so badly off, in terms of their health, that not even Atos all the DWP have a cat in hell’s chance of finding a job for. I had naturally assumed that Dave had been assigned to the Support Group and so I was completely astonished by the letter he received. I wrote back immediately (recorded delivery) pointing out that Atos hadn’t even considered it worth doing a medical examination – assuming, as I did, that they had contacted the DWP was a recommendation that Dave was to be considered unfit for work.
Based on this assumption, I highlighted the steps that have been gone through until now and asked the DWP (Gateshead office) quite what they thought they were on by then sending Dave a date for a further interview. I stipulated that, if such an interview was to take place, then it should be in Dave’s home. I asked the DWP to look at their decision again and told them I would appeal against this decision if they upheld it. A couple of weeks ticked by an envelope dropped on the doormats from the DWP’s Southwick office and instead of talking in general terms about the possibility of an appointment for an assessment of some sort, they now had a date and time to this! To say I’m used to this sort of thing, from local and central government, gives a mistaken impression that I think it’s okay – which I don’t! I assumed that there had been absolutely no communication between the Gateshead and Southwick offices and if there had, then there has been no points at which the specifics of Dave’s case had been taken into account. I also told the Southwick office that if they continued with this level of incompetence then I would have to highlight their lack of due diligence in a way they probably wouldn’t welcome. Two weeks later a second standard letter arrived with another appointment that had been arranged for Dave to attend… with a note scribbled in red ballpoint pen, at the top, stating that the appointment had been “rearranged.” (The person writing this was semiliterate as ‘rearranged’ had been hyphenated and didn’t apply anyway, because it was a NEW appointment that had been made in the wake of non-attendance at the previous one). Another triumph of our education system! My English teacher would have had kittens!
A phone call was made to the DWP, in an effort to shed some light on quite why it was that they seem to be taking no notice whatsoever of correspondence. As it turns out, the offices in question HAD received all correspondence and some mindless computer somewhere and generated another appointment, regardless of facts and evidence elsewhere. It was at this point and emerged that Atos had pulled about the dirtiest trick they could and returned a decision that Dave was fit for work, even though they had not performed the medical assessment on him!
Now, you might think that Dave’s case isn’t typical and that such things don’t happen often… and you would be wrong! According to the nice lady in the offices in Southwick, they are inundated with people who have been treated in exactly the same way and should never be in the Work Related Group. I’m not an expert on the sort of thing, but I would think that the cost saving that might have been made by contracting out the medical assessments to Atos has been more than offset by their greed and incompetence being fed back into the DWP sausage machine. The last I knew the medical assessment appeals system was backed up for months and the staggering percentage of appeals were being upheld. The situation is as plain as day and it is that Atos are motivated by profit alone and don’t much care what unscrupulous lengths they go to, how much distress they cause and how much extra work they make for the DWP, just as long as the money keeps rolling in! Bastards! Lowest of the low!
“Write to your MP” suggested the nice lady from the DWP. In Dave’s case this is one Julie Elliott, who I wrote to over a year ago concerning the benefits fiasco and who did not reply in person, but got a lackey to write back to me telling me that she was “monitoring the situation.” Well, by now she should have done enough monitoring and the only too well aware that Atos Origin Healthcare are doing a shoddy job and ruining peoples lives! Have I seen accounts of her getting to her feet in the Houses of Parliament and protesting in the strongest possible terms that this sort of thing should no longer be allowed to continue? I wonder if you can guess! It’s coming to something when opposition politicians feel I can sit idly by and see pain and suffering caused to disabled and chronically sick people. These are the sort of people who have no prospect of getting a job, no matter what you did by way of modifying the workplace you hope to start them in employment. It’s okay too, to inundate the local DWP offices with wholly avoidable complaints from ESA claimants who should never have been put into the Work Related Group. How much longer can this bunch of cowboys continue to get away with making money out of incompetence, sharp practice, underhandedness and profit driven greed? I have sent a copy of this posting to the local MP in question, but I know she will do nothing!