Interviews can be awkward sometimes. Now and again a journalist will encounter somebody unwilling to give substantial replies to questions; sometimes the answers will be misleading yet in the case of Atos Healthcare and the DWP frustrations came when we had to chase for any replies at all.
Our first port of call was to phone the PR team at ATOS who asked us to send over the questions, which we did. After a few weeks with no replies ABLE2UK politely called them back, our verbal response was that our questions could only be answered by the DWP. The French healthcare company didn’t even have the curtsey to bring this to our attention beforehand and therefore delaying this article.
We made contact with a spokesperson at the DWP (who refuses us to give their name) on 28 September; we were told our answers would be emailed back to us within a few days.
Chasing the DWP on two occasions, the first call we were actually told the press officer had forgot to pass our questions on to their college we eventually received our answers on 15 October with a written apology for the delay.
So, at last we can now publish our exclusive interview from the DWP, we hope you find this an interesting read and it was worth the wait...
ABLE2UK interviews the DWP
...ON DLA REFORMS
ABLE2UK: Do you appreciate how soul destroying it can be to be assessed about your disability?
As part our consultation around the reforms to DLA, disabled people told us about many of the problems with the current system. This includes difficulties with the application process and having to self-assess through an over-complicated 40 page claim form. That is why we are introducing a new face-to-face consultation under PIP which will give people an opportunity to discuss with a healthcare professional, how their impairment affects their ability to live an independent life.
What exactly happens in one of your assessments, please take us through it?
We have worked closely with disabled people and their organisations on the design and development of the PIP assessment and criteria from the start. We recently carried out a consultation on the second draft of the assessment and criteria and will respond to this before the end of the year.
The proposals that we put forward in the second draft of the assessment and criteria would mean that someone would meet with a healthcare professional to talk about what they can or can't do in their everyday lives - such as travelling around, cooking and preparing food, caring for themselves. They would also be given the opportunity to discuss additional information such as doctor’s reports, feedback from carers and other relevant evidence someone wants to provide.
For more information about the second draft of the PIP assessment please visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/pip
Will patients be forced to remove clothing during an assessment and/or have a physical examination...If so why does this degrading procedure need to be carried out?
The focus on the PIP assessment will be on discussing what someone can and can't do in their everyday lives as well as any addition evidence someone provides. However, in some circumstances someone may be asked to have a physical examination if the health professional thinks this is necessary. However, no one will be forced to take part in this and everyone will be asked for their consent.
...ON ESA / IB / WCA
How do you view the service ATOS Healthcare gives to patients with disabilities?
The quality of assessments is subject to a rigorous audit process which is overseen by the DWP and subject to contractual remedies. This includes a random audit of cases by Health Professionals working directly for the Department.
The required service level for the quality of medical assessments is no more than 5% of cases audited (based on an agreed sample) to be graded at ‘C’ (levels of quality A, B, C). This is routinely achieved- current average is 3.98%
HMCTS can refer any cases where they believe the medical assessment is incorrect or below standard back to Atos Healthcare for comment- in the first 4 months of this year 8 cases have been returned to Atos Healthcare
Reports have said examiners pay little attention to patients and are rude, blunt and make little eye contact – why do you think these kinds of comments have been raised on numerous occasions?
All Atos assessors are qualified healthcare professionals and include doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. Since 2010 we have considerably improved the Work Capability Assessment process. We have made progress in giving people a more tailored and personal service and as a result we are seeing an increase in the number of severely disabled people being given long-term unconditional support.
Is it true the DWP have asked ATOS to pass only a certain percentage of patients for Incapacity Benefits and what is the percentage?
No. There are no targets for the number of people found fit for work.
How difficult is it promoting a service which continues to distress so many people with a disability?
The old incapacity benefit system needed reform because it wrote too many people off to a life on benefits. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assesses someone’s capacity for work and looks at what a person can do, not what they can’t.
The WCA is being continually reviewed and refined through a series of independent reviews by Professor Harrington.
Professor Harrington completed the first two reviews and is in the process of completing his third and final review. In the first review, he said that the system was not broken but required improvements to make it better. In his second review, he reconfirmed that the Work Capability Assessment remains the right process.
Surely if you have a genuine disability which will never improve and your doctor has records of your condition you shouldn’t have to be subjected to another assessment?
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assesses someone’s capacity for work and looks at what a person can do because we know conditions affect different people in different ways.
Someone’s eligibility for ESA is based on both the face to face assessment and consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.
The old incapacity benefit system wrote people off to a life on benefits without considering what work they were able to do. A health condition or disability should not automatically be regarded as a barrier to work and there is strong evidence that work is good for physical and mental well-being. We know that many people with disabilities or health conditions want to work so we are committed to help thousands of people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable while giving unconditional support to those who need it
What are your views on the on-going marches against ATOS Healthcare staged by DPAC and what are your thoughts of the organisation itself?
We respect people’s right to peaceful protest.
Nurse Joyce Drummond, who used to work at ATOS has said the company forced her to trick disabled people out of their benefits, what is your reply to her statement?
You would need to speak to Atos about this, although we believe the member of staff left Atos over three years ago and was not involved in conducting assessments for ESA.
We went back to our contact at ATOS for an answer on the final question and also the query about the DWP setting targets, an issue which was brought to light following a recent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 where a member of ATOS told an undercover investigator the health care was given targets by the DWP. However the response we received from the health care PR manager firm read...
- I can confirm that Atos has no targets for benefit outcomes.
- On Joyce Drummond, we understand that applying for benefit can be a difficult and emotional time which is why we work very hard try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible and we strongly refute her claims, which are completely unfounded. The DWP is correct that she left our employment over three years ago and was not involved in conducting ESA assessments.
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