By John Pring Disability News Service 4th Jan 2018
A nurse carrying out a disability benefit assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away.
Daniel Marshall, from Dorset, had only been able to answer a couple of questions from the Atos nurse before the stress of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment caused the first of a series of seizures.
Shortly after they began, he started to experience a period of “grand mal” seizures, which caused violent convulsions and led the father-of-two to bite his tongue and begin to bleed from his mouth.
Despite these seizures, the nurse failed to provide any advice or help, according to Daniel’s wife, Sinitta.
After waiting for the grand mal seizures to finish and stepping outside to call her boss for instructions, the nurse came back inside and asked if she could continue with the assessment, warning Sinitta that otherwise her husband would not be awarded any PIP.
She continued to ask questions for up to half an hour, the Marshalls say, even though Sinitta told the nurse that she needed to change her husband’s clothes because he had wet himself.
The assessor was forced to pause a second time when Daniel had another series of grand mal seizures, but then carried on asking Sinitta questions.
Sinitta said: “I was crying my eyes out. I told her he would probably end up in hospital, which he did.
“I told her I had to change him because he had wet himself, but she just kept asking questions. I felt like I was being interrogated.
“She just kept asking how long it would last for and what it would be like after she left.”
After the assessment ended, Daniel had another eight grand mal seizures and was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Despite the seriousness of the seizures, Daniel says that the nurse failed to mention in her assessment report that she had witnessed them taking place.
He told Disability News Service that the nurse “didn’t even treat me like a human” during the assessment on 22 November.
He said: “It is bad enough to not be able to support your family, but the way she treated me made me feel like I was less than human.”
When he was first assessed for PIP two years ago, following his initial diagnosis with epilepsy, his claim had been rejected, following an Atos assessment.
He said he had had to “fight tooth and nail” to be awarded the standard daily living rate and enhanced mobility rate of PIP after challenging the decision through the Department for Work and Pensions’ mandatory reconsideration process.
He believes that the stress of having to prove the seriousness of his epilepsy – he experiences grand mal, cluster and absence seizures – when he was being reassessed brought on the seizures during the assessment in November.
His wife said she was “really angry and really sad”.
She said: “I am sad for my husband because he has gone through all this.
“I am angry at her because having seen exactly what he was going through, she was still wanting to ask me irrelevant questions.”
She added: “We feel like she may as well have prodded his twitching body with her foot whilst taking notes.”
Even though the nurse awarded Daniel enough points to qualify for the enhanced rate of PIP for both mobility and daily living, he only met the minimum requirement for enhanced daily living by one point.
Despite seeing him wet himself during the first series of grand mal seizures, the nurse still gave him zero points in the incontinence category.
Daniel said he believes that if the assessor had not witnessed his seizures, he would have lost all his entitlement to PIP.
He said: “On a lot of the questions, she wrote down [in the assessment report] the opposite of what she was told.
“She may as well have filled it out herself [without an assessment] and saved me the stress and aggro of going through all the seizures.
“I see so many people struggling to get PIP. I would probably have been one of those people if I had not been ‘fortunate’ enough to have those seizures in front of her.”
DNS has been carrying out a year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, and has revealed that complaints about the process rose by nearly 900 per cent in 2016.
Asked if this was an acceptable way for an assessor to behave, whether the case provided further evidence of the problems within the assessment system, and if the department would investigate this case, a DWP spokesman said: “Comment on this specific incident is for our assessment provider.
“I understand no complaint has been made to our provider.”
He added: “We always expect the highest of standards from our independent assessors.”
An Atos spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to providing every claimant at each stage with a professional and compassionate service.
“We also carry out every assessment in line with the criteria as laid out by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“Following a review of this case, we do not recognise the account that has been provided, and no complaint has been received.”
When asked if Atos was denying that Daniel Marshall had had a series of epileptic seizures during the assessment, and that the assessor had continued with the assessment despite those seizures, the spokesman refused to comment further.