GPs and DWP-AtoS: ‘Picking up the pieces’ by Dr. Margaret McCartney FRCGP (Glasgow)



Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow, investigates the evidence-base behind the PR fluff
Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow, investigates the evidence-base behind the PR fluff

From: Dr Margaret McCartney Comments (13)

First Posted by: Margaret McCartney 20 November 2012

There can hardly be a GP in the land who has not noticed the mess that we are being invited to mop up over the Government’s work capability assessments.

The programme to reassess whether people on benefits are fit for work – as contracted out to the French technology company Atos at a cost of £100m a year1 – is creating distress in patients and additional workload for practices as many people are told to ask their GP for a letter to try and support their claim.


We are asked to fill in cursory forms that give space only for confirmation of the diagnosis; barely any space to describe the impact of illness on a patient. A doctor recently wrote in the BMJ about how difficult she found the process; how much worse is it for patients who are unused to form filling and bureaucracy?2

The fall-out for ordinary people is immense. Many people who have worked all their lives and who feel guilt and shame at being ‘burdens’ on the state find the process of claiming benefits humiliating and degrading.

There are multiple harms created for citizens that are going unmeasured – the ongoing stress of the uncertainty of the process has profound impacts on many people’s health.

The costs of this are not being borne by the company running the scheme; the NHS is bearing the brunt of them.

Earlier this year, the LMCs conference called for the process to be scrapped, saying it should be replaced with ‘a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society’.

It is not a fair system (and there is copious evidence of its unfairness) and its failings will be borne by the most vulnerable. The stress caused by its inadequacies will be pushed on to the NHS.

Of the many people who appeal, some 38% win.1 People who have the help of agencies such as Citizens’ Advice are more likely to be successful at appeal – suggesting that the process does not favour people unfamiliar with the system.3

In October, Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, described the Government’s contract with Atos as ‘unacceptably loose and (permitting) loopholes that can all too easily be exploited by contractors’.4

Let’s hope the £400m contract Atos won in August to reassess people for the new Personal Independence Payment, which will replace the Disability Living Allowance, is not also full of similar ‘loopholes’.

I believe this will be a recurring problemas large Government contracts with the private sector become more involved in healthcare. Why on earth are we franchising out the care of our most ill to a profit-making system? We need to pull the plug on these contracts.

Dr Margaret McCartney is a GP in Glasgow


1 National Audit Office 2012, Contract management of medical services HC627. Published Oct.

2 BMJ 2012, It is too difficult for ill people to claim benefits. Published 30 Oct

3 BMJ 2012, UK Government’s contract with Atos is ‘unacceptably loose’, MPs say. Published 22 Oct

4 Public Service 2012, Hodge: DWP management contract is ‘easily exploited’. Published 22 Oct







4 thoughts on “GPs and DWP-AtoS: ‘Picking up the pieces’ by Dr. Margaret McCartney FRCGP (Glasgow)

  1. Michael says:

    Iv just failed my medical I have fibromyalgia,I.b.s hypertension,asthma,dermatitis ,carnt go far from home as ibs is not good ,iv got constant high pain all over my body I’m fit for work atos say an the stuff I put on form they contradicted said I’m fine ,my friend rote in saying he helped me regular they said he was lieing,he’s a self employed 54 year-old man ,

  2. jeffery davies says:

    it fails me that even gps who talk out about the atos dwp relationship isnt working and killing those who they supposed to be protecting ,its them that pay homage to money not people but then with their hands in the till when will we have politicians who will do the right thing and det rid of this lot before they kill us all jeff3

  3. Judith Desrosiers says:

    Perhaps its time the GP,s stood in the street to protest,because this must be affecting their hippocratic oath,when they feel the form is inadequate,and so they are unable to do the job which they studied so long for,to try and make the GP,s yet more scape goats and do the governments dirty work is such a low down trick,and should be a matter of the strongest protest from BM employees,it is indeed almost a form”(pardon the pun) of bullying for GP,s and those who do charge,well that is their right to do so,I suppose,where as myself as a GP,I would totally object to being party to this nonsense and waste of time and resources,not to mention causing a drift in the community which is becoming so apparent ,thats what the government are aiming for

  4. RMC says:

    I think I found a GP who hasn’t noticed the ‘Atos effect’ … my own sadly. I have chronic depression, and a whole raft of physical symptoms that they’re still investigating … slowly (apparently it could be anything from CFS to MS). When I mentioned to them that I was due to see Atos, their response was that maybe they would be able to diagnose/investigate my problems … they honestly thought it was a proper medical exam that would have aftercare, follows-ups, etc. Atos however, on hearing of the possible diagnoses that are being considered, quickly stopped my original assessment and said ‘come back when your GP has all the results’, promptly giving me an appointment for 4 weeks later, which we all know will produce nothing on ‘NHS time’. Between the two, what chance have I got?

Leave a Reply