Atos assessments are cruel and unethical says doctor who has resigned

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‘Disability benefit assessments ‘unfair’, says ex-worker’ 

The fit to work tests were introduced in 2010 and have proved controversial

By Sophie Hutchinson BBC News

wheelchairs at assessments

A doctor who worked for the private company which assesses people for disability benefits says its methods are “unfair”.

Greg Wood, a former Royal Navy doctor, resigned from Atos earlier this month, after working as an assessor for two-and-a-half years.

 

He told the BBC the system was “skewed against the claimant”.

But Atos Healthcare says it submits “clinically justified reports” and completely refutes Dr Wood’s claims.

Atos, which has been criticised in the past by disability campaigners and MPs, carries out work capability assessments (WCAs) on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Claimants have to score a required number of points in order to qualify for the full sickness benefit under the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

In a statement, Atos said:

“We never ask healthcare professionals to make any changes to a report unless there are specific clinical quality issues identified within it.

“We do not deviate from government guidelines in our training. We do not have targets for getting people on or off benefits.

“We have a large team of fully trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who provide a professional and compassionate service through what we recognise can be a difficult and emotional process for people…

“We are a professional and ethical organisation.”

‘Compelled to speak’

In an interview with the BBC, Dr Wood says he believes Atos assessors are not free to make truly independent recommendations.

He said he felt compelled to speak out because it was “embarrassing to be associated with this shambles”.

Case study

Ema Hackett

Ema Hackett, 24, has a mid-range disability and is unable to work. A trained graphic designer, she has Hypermobility Syndrome which makes her joints abnormally flexible. She lives with chronic pain and also suffers from mental health problems.

She has a carer who comes in once a day to help with household chores and cook her dinner.

In the past three years, she has twice been rejected for full sickness benefit following assessments and twice she’s successfully challenged the decision through Atos’ internal appeal system.

“It feels like not only am I fighting my body to get up everyday, but I’m also fighting the system to get the money I need just to exist.

“I don’t have a frivolous life. I don’t really ask for much – I just want enough to live a normal life.

“The letters from the Department for Work and Pensions come in a brown envelope with a certain address on the back. Any brown envelope I look at the back and if it’s from the Department for Work and Pensions, I’m scared.”

“It’s very unfair on the people making claims, they deserve a fair assessment and as a taxpayer I’m pretty cheesed off about the £100m plus that’s being sprayed away on this dog’s breakfast,” Dr Wood said.

The assessments – or fit to work tests – sparked protests from disability campaigners after their introduction in 2010.

But Dr Wood has criticised some of the tests which he says contain “dubious concepts and shaky reasoning”.

He claims assessors are told that if a claimant can walk from the kitchen to the sitting room, it proves they can walk 200m (650ft); and if a person can dress themselves once during the day that is proof they have enough concentration and motivation to hold down a job.

He insists these rules are not published in handbooks and guides, instead they are simply spoken about in training sessions.

Mr Gibson said the rules detailed by Dr Wood were incorrect and several questions were asked to build up a complete picture, alongside the medical evidence.

Dr Wood, who was given special responsibility to champion mental health at Atos, said:

“I was instructed to change my reports, to reduce the number of points that might be awarded to the claimants. I felt that was wrong professionally and ethically.

“My view is the government has tried to catch more people in the net than the current test allows by pulling strings behind the scenes to get the result they most desire,”

he added.

Mr Gibson said a report was only changed if there was insufficient medical evidence to back it up.

There were “no targets to take people off benefits” and that had always been the case, he added.

‘Highest level’

Dr Wood says the people being most adversely affected by the system have significant, mid-ranging disabilities, such as Parkinson’s disease, mental illness, and head and spinal injuries.

He also claims some of the most severely disabled people are being asked to attend face-to-face assessments, instead of the normal practice of examining their application on paper.

He says he saw a lot of people who had suffered severe strokes and brain damage.

“There was a man with a motor neurone condition who I actually put in the terminal illness group,”

he said.

“He should not have come for a face-to-face assessment. It was cruel and he was hopping mad.”

The DWP said between March and May 2012, 58% of decisions to award the full sickness benefit were made on paper only, so did not require a face-to-face assessment.

Employment minister Mark Hoban says the evidence speaks for itself.

“When we came to Office one in 10 people were getting the highest level of support. That has now gone up to three in 10,” he told the BBC.

“What’s important to me is to make sure the decisions which are made are good quality decisions and people are getting the right support.”

He said the assessments had undergone several independent reviews and were devised in conjunction with health professionals and charities.

“The percentage of people entitled to ESA is now at its highest level with over half of people completing an assessment eligible for the benefit,” a DWP spokesman added.

Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who has asked a series of Commons questions on the assessments, said Dr Wood’s allegations were “serious and shocking” and he had written to the prime minister asking for an investigation.

“The head-in-the-sand approach Tory ministers are adopting isn’t good enough,” 

“They need to get a grip on this chaotic process which is not only causing misery for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, but also costing taxpayers a fortune at a time when we can least afford it.”

Atos senior vice president Wayne Gibson told the BBC it was “surprised and concerned that someone thinks we are unethical”.

“We don’t make the decision about who gets a benefit or not.

“Our role in the process is to do an assessment, gather the medical evidence and write a report that goes to the department, upon which they can gather more evidence and make a decision.”

In a later statement, the company said the claims were “false and damaging”.

It added: “Clinical judgement is the foundation of our part of the Work Capability Assessment process. We send the DWP independent, clinically justified reports to help the department’s decision makers make a decision on benefit entitlement…

“We are a professional and ethical organisation which has carried out this work on behalf of the department for over a decade.

“Atos Healthcare conducts its business based on a code of ethics and a strong legal compliance culture.”

BBC

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Comments
  • RG May 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    ““We are a professional and ethical organisation which has carried out this work on behalf of the department for over a decade”
    If it wasn’t so serious this statement would be laughable. It is about time the BBC or some other media organisation do an undercover investigation. I am sure someone going for a WCA would be willing to take a “journalist friend” I have said before it is about time the DWP and or Govt sent a few mystery claimants to these assessments. They would soon see what is going on. Then again that wouldn’t suit their agenda. The figures 3 in 10 are getting better support from 1 in 10 is probably misleading if they are using a smaller pool of claimants.

  • leonc1963 May 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Quote: “We are a professional and ethical organisation.”

    Next News ATOS wins the Baloney Award for the biggest overstatement of the year.

  • Paul Wiltshire May 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I went for an assessment, the doctor was so rude I have depression and prostate problems. She told me to wear incontinance pads. My grandson had just come out of nappies and follows me everywhere I said how am I going to explain to him that I’ve got to wear a nappy! I felt as though I was just a statistic she never even asked me why I have depression. Its a good job I’m not suicidal because if I was I would probably walked in front of a bus as soon as I left, bedside manner, no wonder she’s not a G.P.

  • j.bradley May 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    “We are a professional and ethical organisation.”

    and bigger liars than our MP’s

  • Linda Ashford May 16, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    “Clinical judgement is the foundation of our part of the Work Capability Assessment process.”

    How can this be? It has been repeatedly denied by both Atos and the DWP as being not part of their process, which they have claimed is only about assessing fitness for work. They do not employ Doctors only as assessors, but physiotherapists, and other peripheral health workers, who do not make, in the normal course of their profession, clinical judgements, though they may work with a person’s medical diagnosis to achieve improved health. However the work of ATOS has nothing to do with this at all.

  • Brian F Kirkham May 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Hmmm…

    Interesting one this….

    “We are a professional and ethical organisation”

    So ethical, they’re being paid by the number of people they get off the claimant register!

    So ethical, if you don’t fit the tick-box, you are ticked off as “fit for work!”

    If this is their idea of ethical – it’s in very poor taste.

    (or perhaps this is IDS’s idea of showing the public what the NHS will be like under their new arrangements :/ )

  • andy hickling May 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    am due a atos assessment…so they broke there own regulations twice,and lied to my mp and lied on what i said to them on there computer,then ‘changed it back again!!..now apparently am lying…my lady..they returned her original gl24,then claimed they never received it..dispite it been stamped by there office,she contemplated suicide.caused massive upset.THEY (dwp and atos)have NOT responded to our complaints..they tried to force her to take her own life thru distress,leaving her helpless with no appeal options wat-so-ever…..AND THERE SAYING WHAT NOW??SORRY????atos and the dwp are in breach of international law..does any1 do owt??nope sick!!

  • jeffrey davies May 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    “We are a professional and ethical organisation.” then why do thy push aside your doctors reports only to become new evidence at the tribunel stage its good the doctors is speaking up now about atos but it took him long enough to get to this,but on the lies go atos dwp ids they all now whots happeniong whilst they say 3out of ten well if truths be nown they taking more off that cant work with all htier lies figures manipulated to suit them yep our glorious goveremnt who daily abuse those who cant fight back yep a very carring government pleas go quietly jeff3

  • steve davies May 16, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    I salute this ex Navy Doctor who has said enough is enough. We all know Atos are corrupt lying bastards but to see a man stand up on his principles , there is still a God. My only regret is the other Doctors and Nurses and Physiotherapists dont all come out and support our hero.

  • jed goodright May 17, 2013 at 1:15 am

    yet another one!

    The DWP response will go along the lines of this is yet more anecdotal evidence. We require proof to investigate such allegations. We need proof that hundreds of people are dying not merely anecdotes. We care about claimants even though there is no proof of that and all our comments are merely suppositions based on false criteria and our imaginations

  • Barry. May 17, 2013 at 1:30 am

    In a statement, Atos said:
    “We never ask healthcare professionals to make any changes to a report unless there are specific clinical quality issues identified within it.
    “We do not deviate from government guidelines in our training. We do not have targets for getting people on or off benefits.
    “We have a large team of fully trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who provide a professional and compassionate service through what we recognise can be a difficult and emotional process for people…
    “We are a professional and ethical organisation.”

    Ethical Organisation, that may well be the case in there IT baseness but as a health care adviser to the British Government they are far from ethical about who they find fit for work et personally they should stick to what they know best IT! not medical care, the most ethical thing they could do is to remove themselves from giving this Government advise on thing they have no understanding of, how many more qualified people who have an understanding of the sick, the disabled, the mentally unstable must come forward to revoke what Atos is doing to the people they state they are ethically treating and advising to this pathetic Government.

    What they are having a lath with this:

    “He claims assessors are told that if a claimant can walk from the kitchen to the sitting room, it proves they can walk 200m (650ft); and if a person can dress themselves once during the day that is proof they have enough concentration and motivation to hold down a job”.

    So if your kitchen is say 20m from your sitting room your abele to walk the 200m and if you can dress yourself once a day even if it takes say one hour to do this task alone unaided you can work, well that really makes sense doesn’t it, I ponder would they find there own parents fit for work if they could only walk 20m’s and it took them one hour to dress themselves unaided.

    “He said the assessments had undergone several independent reviews and were devised in conjunction with health professionals and charities”.

    Are do you mean the charities that where never included even though Atos used there names as participants.

    “We don’t make the decision about who gets a benefit or not”.

    No but you make it clear to the DWP these people are not as sick or disabled as they clam and your “surprised and concerned that someone thinks your unethical”.

    Your role in the process is to do an assessment, gather the medical evidence and write a report
    Then why did one of your employees state on camera they didn’t need medical evidence or a letter from a GP well if that is gathering evidence I must be thick to think you dote need medical evidence from the professionals to make a ethical diction.

  • kelpiemare May 17, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Atos are being defended by Hoban and Duncan-Smith simply because they ARE delivering the results this inane, inhuman govt want, a lower welfare bill. That they are having to stump up millions for tribunals is an unforeseen cost. They didn’t expect folk to bite back. And will keep biting back until they face facts, employers won’t make concessions to work conditions for sick/disabled people.

    And the 3out of 10 increase Hoban waffle about? If the passes (before tribunals/appeal) are lower, of course the ratio will increase. More smoke and mirror statistics from a lying govt minister.

  • AL May 18, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    The idea of mystery shoppers is very sensible. On account of claimants either being ‘scroungers’ or ‘nuts,’ credibility cannot readily be given to their testimony. Equally once an assessor has either been sacked or quit, they are sadly no longer in a position to give up to date, unbiased info. Just an aside, DWP lose everything. If they lose your sick notes they don’t tell you, they don’t remind you to send the next one in, they just stop paying and you have to figure out why. Hopefully before the bank charges you for going into the red. Tip, never send a covering letter with sick notes, All mail is opened by Royal Mail, letters have to be sent to letter reading dept, to be read, sick notes get lost on route. It doesn’t matter because claimants have no feelings and are just scroungers anyway. GP gets fed up, not with DWP but with the patient who wastes his time. Patient gets fed up with GP who takes over a week to organise replacement notes, then it’s up to patient to notice he’s got the dates wrong. Then oh dear, another GP thinks DWP will be fine over dates being crossed out and changed. (no initialling) Patient needs to be patient. Very very patient. I find tablets help!!

  • GEOFF REYNOLDS May 27, 2013 at 10:18 am

    READ THIS IN THE DAILY MIRROR YESTERDAY…..
    HOW LONG BEFORE IT BECOMES A MURDER ENQUIRY?

    Linda Wootton: Double heart and lung transplant dies nine days after she has benefits stopped
    26 May 2013 00:01

    She was told her employment and support allowance was being stopped as she lay dying in a hospital bed
    Dying transplant patient: Linda Dying transplant patient: Linda
    John Alevroyiannis

    A double heart and lung transplant patient died just NINE DAYS after the Government stopped her benefits and ordered her to go back to work.

    Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 prescription drugs a day, suffering high blood pressure, renal failure and regular blackouts.

    Yet Atos – the private firm carrying out the Government’s controversial work capability assessments – ruled she was fit enough to find a job after she was interviewed.

    Cost-cutting officials sent Linda a letter telling her that her £108.05 a week employment and support allowance was being stopped as she lay dying in a hospital bed.

    Her husband Peter said: “I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own body fluids. It took half an hour for her to die – and that’s a woman who’s ‘fit for work’. The last months of her life were a misery because she worried about her benefits, feeling useless, like a scrounger.

    “But there was no way in a million years she could work.”

    The Coalition hired Atos to carry out the assessments as part of the welfare cuts. The firm processed almost 20,000 incapacity benefit claimants a week last year… but a third of the people who appealed against its decisions were successful.

    Linda also appealed but was rejected despite her history.

    She had her first heart and lung transplant in 1985 and ­returned to her council office job. But her body began to reject her new organs and she had another transplant at Harefield Hospital, Middlesex, in 1989.

    There were complications and she was given 80 pints of blood in 31 hours of surgery. Afterwards, Linda was never fit enough to go back to work and claimed benefits. Refrigeration engineer Peter, 50, said: “She would be listless, falling asleep, feeling faint… she had no stamina.”

    She collapsed regularly and was in and out of the Harefield specialist heart and lung centre.

    Then, three months ago, her employment support allowance was withdrawn under the Govern­ment’s cuts. New rules meant she would have to prove she was ill to Atos assessors.

    Peter said Linda found the process humiliating. The assessments, which have also seen some terminal cancer patients denied benefits, have been blasted as arduous and degrading.

    Linda’s was at a test centre in Southend, eight miles from her home in Rayleigh, Essex, on January 3. “She couldn’t even drive herself because she kept feeling faint,” said Peter, who was not allowed in to support her.

    Linda spent just 20 minutes answering questions before the assessor ended the interview.

    She was judged fit for work and her benefit was stopped on February 13. Peter said Linda typed her appeal on an iPad “crying her eyes out” as she lay in hospital chronically ill with a chest infection.

    But the Department for Work and Pensions rejected it – and wrote to her on April 16 as she lay dying. The letter said: “We have decided that you are not entitled to Employment and Support Allowance because you have been found to be capable of work following your recent Work Capability Assessment.”

    Linda was told she would have to “score” at least 15 points from the assessment but her results were nil.

    The Atos criteria for ability to work included “You can understand simple messages from a stranger” and “You can use a computer keyboard or mouse and a pen or a pencil with at least one hand.”

    On April 22 Peter was called to Harefield. “I was told Linda’s condition was unsurvivable and she would be dead within two or three weeks,” he said.

    “On April 24 they put her on palliative care. I sat all night with her and her breathing changed next morning.” Linda died 30 minutes later. More than 100 mourners attended her funeral earlier this month.

    While the Atos assessment failed to pinpoint any of Linda’s health issues, her death certificate listed lung and heart problems, hypertension and chronic renal failure as causes.

    Peter cannot grieve properly because he is so angry at how Whitehall bureaucrats ruined his wife’s precious last days. He said: “She paid her tax and national insurance – then she is treated like this. It’s disgusting.”

    A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Our sympathy goes out to Mrs Wootton’s family. A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all supporting medical evidence.”

  • jay May 27, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    This is one of the most horrific articles I’ve read here and let’s be honest there have been many. My thoughts go direct to this brave man and his family for their tragic loss.

    The treatment they and this dying woman have been subjected to by the DWP and Atos beggars belief.
    Atos should be kicked out of the UK now and the DWP disbanded, it is a rogue department in this vile and disgusting government.

    For the government spokesman to mouth the useless words
    ” A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all supporting medical evidence.”

    Does the idiot really believe this drivel he has spouted. The story of this woman’s sad death is more than enough evidence.
    The moron that works for Atos that assessed this woman and the idiot DWP decision maker should be tried for murder or the more appropriate term Democide:

    “Democide can also include deaths arising from “intentionally or knowingly reckless and depraved disregard for life”; this brings into account many deaths arising through various neglects and abuses.”

    This woman would have lived longer without the harrassment and worry caused by Atos/DWP and ended her days with the required dignity she and her family deserved.

    I can only echo my deep sympathy to the family.

    Surely there must be a lawyer/solicitor who will take on this case and expose the brutal truth resulting from this despicable government’s policies

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