ATOS and ESA

OMG has any one seen this...I will certainly be watching despatches. I was turned down for ESA and DLA like many others with PBC/AIH. It stinks really.....please have a read and watch the programme and pass this on to people.

Atos assessors told to keep disability benefit approvals low, film suggests

GP applied for job with Atos assessing whether benefit applicants were fit for work, and secretly filmed his training

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Amelia Gentleman

The Guardian, Friday 27 July 2012

If someone can sit and propel a manual wheelchair, they are not eligible for the benefit, one trainer in the films explains. Photograph: Rex Features

Secret filming of training given to doctors recruited by the private company Atos to assess whether sickness and disability benefit applicants are fit for work suggests that staff are monitored to ensure they do not find excessive numbers of claimants eligible.

The footage will trigger a new debate over whether there are fixed targets for the number of people who should be granted the new incapacity benefit – the employment and support allowance – something the government and Atos, the company hired by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to conduct the fitness for work tests, have consistently denied.

The film also demonstrates the unease about the radically heightened eligibility criteria felt by some trainers employed by Atos to teach new recruits how to carry out the tests. It is now harder for some very severely disabled claimants to qualify for support. No matter how serious claimants problems are with their arms, for example, "as long as you've got one finger, and you can press a button," they would be found fit for work, a trainer explains.

Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years' experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4's Dispatches programme, which will be broadcast on Monday 30 July at 8pm. Undercover filming shows Bick being told by his trainer that he will be watched carefully over the number of applicants he found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments.

The trainer tells trainee assessors: "If it's more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back 'your rate is too high.'" When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: "How do we know? I don't know who set the criteria but that's what we are being told."

Bick asked: "So if we put 20% in, we would get picked up on?". He was told by the trainer that, in that scenario, his cases would be reviewed.

The DWP said it was unable to respond in detail to the programme's findings because it had not been shown a full transcript, but a spokeswoman said it was "nonsense" to suggest there were targets or expected results of any sort. She said assessors' results were monitored to make sure they adhered to an average, adding: "If individual Atos healthcare professionals record results considerably outside the average, their work may be audited to ensure quality. If no issues are found with the quality of work, no action is taken."

In the footage, one of the trainers admits during a session that the auditing process makes her feel uncomfortable.

"It's terrible sometimes, people having [problems with] both hips and both knees, but good hands. Terrible. And you know, we talk about modern work adaptations, but we know how it looks from the other side – there's no jobs for normal people, healthy people. But we have to think this way and sometimes you feel awful because you can't do anything for people. You can't feel sorry and give them the money just because you feel sorry for them ... you will go on targeted audit," she says.

During the assessment, Atos health professionals, who can be doctors, nurses or physiotherapists, have to award claimants points reflecting the apparent severity of their condition, with information gathered through a computer-led set of questions. The data is typed into a computer program during the 20-minute session, and patients who score 15 points are likely to be found eligible for support, although the final decision is taken by jobcentre staff. Patients who score below 15 points are not likely to qualify for benefits.

In the film, the trainer highlights to new trainees the way that the new system has been altered so it offers less support to certain categories of claimants.

"For employment support allowance, we talk about mobilising, which means being able to transfer from point A to point B either by walking, walking with aids, which is crutches, walking sticks, Zimmer frame or using a manual wheelchair. So if someone has no legs but they have good hands, they can sit and propel a manual wheelchair, they don't score anything. This is one of the toughest changes," she says. "I've recently had somebody with prostate cancer, but of course that's not traditionally treated with chemotherapy so I gave him no points. And I couldn't do anything else…. Same with breast cancer: the hormonal treatments don't count. So he was given no points, I felt very uncomfortable doing it and I didn't like doing it, but I had no way of scoring him."

Large numbers of people found ineligible for the benefit are appealing against the decision to find them fit for work; about 41% of those refused support go to tribunal and 30% are subsequently granted the benefit. There have been more than 600,000 appeals since the WCA started, costing about £60m a year.

The film also reveals Atos's lack of accountability for these appeals. The trainer explains: "Good thing for us is, even if you made the wrong decision … you never go to the tribunal. So, sort of, you won't be blamed."

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: "It is simply and absolutely untrue that there are targets for the number of people to be assessed as fit-to-work; neither set by the Department for Work and Pensions nor Atos Healthcare. Every person we see is assessed individually with a focus on the facts of their own case."

On Thursday, the high court granted permission to two disabled people to bring a claim for judicial review against the work and pensions secretary to challenge the operation of the WCA, on the grounds that it potentially discriminates against claimants with mental health problems.

xxconniefused

WCA, on the grounds that it potentially discriminates against claimants with mental health problems.

10 Replies

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  • Not good reading, I go on Sunday yes Sunday ATOS are working for my ESA appeal to be put in the support group instead of the work related group ,makes you wonder whether it's worth the effort

    Anita

  • Hi there

    I dont quite understand what your saying here, is it that youve been awarded ESA work related group but they want you in ESA support group?

    Im on ESA support group which means I dont have to attend any work related stuff

    Catherine :)

  • good luck for sunday, i have neuropathic pain in my ankle and degenrated cervical spine pain i have appealed against atos who said i was fit for work, that was in january and i am still waitiilityng for my interview.i have told them its not my disability that stops me from working but its the pain and medication and lack of concertration,? how long did you wait until your appeal was heard,

    andy

  • Hi Andy

    I also have cervical spine pain and pbc, I was awarded no points at my medical, I appealed and won my case, it took a year for my appeal to come up.

    Catherine :)

  • thanks catherine

  • Sorry but I am in the dark about all this but what is ATOS. I have never claimed anything before so not up on it, I have won a tribunal for DLA but I doubt I will ever get it as they are just messing me around, telling me the tribunal havent sent the papers and then they lost the papers and then saying it's an awful lot of money,, "Well of course it is they have been messing me about for two years now" and now it's with a decision maker ( to decide if they are going to pay it I suppose.).......I thought the decision had been made for them by the tribunal service but it seems not

  • I was put in the work related group after being awarded 15points at my tribunal,because I waited over 12 months for the tribunal I have got a lot worse and was told by the judge that I would need to be reassessed as they could only consider how I had been not how I am today.

    ATOS are the medical group that do your medicals for DWP they would have seen you for your DLA or at least a doc who works for them

    Aneata

  • Nope i did not get that far was turned down straight away..did not aapeal either because myfriend is in a wheel chair some of the time and she also was taken off ESA and as a result she also lost her DLA..it's not worth the stress.

    xxconniefused

  • I feel a tribunal will happen,

    at my Medical the health care practitioner from ATOS said " oh biliary chirrosis of the bones" at least she didn't think I had ms I explained no I had PBC and it was my liver " do you drink alcohol ?"

    Was the next question I then explained I wasn't an alcoholic that it was my immune system,after that she was more interested in noting down my medication

    I wasn't allowed into the lift as in an emergency I wouldn't be able to get down the flights of stairs so had to be dealt with at the entrance in a small room

    Bit worrying now as to where you can go on a scooter

    Not a good day and feel so negative about it all

    Aneata

  • It is very worrying that everyone is having problems claiming DLA when they are entilted to it.I have PBC andEpilepsy and have claimed this benifit, I also worked for Citizen Advice as a volenteer Benifit advisor specicialiseing in Disabilty benifits. It has always been very difficulty to claim DLA and I would advise evryone to seek expert advise and the wording on these forms is essential. Always contac t your nearest CAB also if you have been a member of a Union they have benifit advisers ,also Professional organisations,also remember ALWAYS APPEAL your decision you must ask for written reasons why they declined your claim, there are strict time lines for this, always advise to do this on day one. I could go on for ages about claims, will write after the programme.

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