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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Benefit assessment contractors hiding in plain sight

Assessments of people’s applications for disability benefits in the UK, are carried out by contractors for the government. That is, of course, well known.

It is equally common knowledge that those contractors are Atos, Capita, and Maximus. Between them, they have made hundreds of millions of pounds from their contracts with the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Quite a lucrative business, eh?

I’d say it is akin to a licence to print money at the expense, and terror, of those applying for either employment and support allowance (ESA) or personal independence payment (PIP).

Assessments, especially outcomes of face-to-face interviews with claimants, have been widely criticised – not least by tribunals that hear appeals against them.

Atos has tried to hide its involvement in PIP assessments by rebranding itself as Independent Assessment Services. It announced the change last summer. Call it what you will, though, it is still Atos Healthcare and its abysmal record – but in disguise.

But what, you may ask, is the Health Assessment Advisory Service of the grandly-named Centre for Health and Disability Assessments? Sounds as though it could be part of the government.

Assessments for benefits

The CHSA website says:

The Government provides certain benefits for people who are out of work due to long-term illness or as a result of a disability or health condition. The Government has decided that the best way to assess eligibility is through an independent health assessment under the Health Assessment Advisory Service.

Centre for Health and Disability Assessments provides the service on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The contract between DWP and Centre for Health and Disability Assessments started 1 March 2015.

Healthcare Professionals from Centre for Health and Disability Assessments conduct one-to-one assessments with individuals seeking disability benefits and delivers a report to DWP. DWP then uses this information to determine a person’s benefit entitlement.

assessmentAll the way through, the website fails to mention the real identity of who or what is behind the CHDA. Then, at the very bottom, under the name of the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, in small print it reveals ‘Operated by MAXIMUS’.

Surprise, surprise! Enough said, I think.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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Government contractor must pay £5,000 over dishonest assessment, court decides

A court has ruled that a woman with a disability be paid £5,000 compensation by a government contractor. The was because one of its assessors made a dishonest report that led to her being given insufficient benefits.

The contractor, Atos, is one of the companies that conduct assessments for the UK’s department for work and pensions (DWP). It assesses people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), and personal independence payment (PIP). These are claimed by many with MS, other diseases, and disabilities.

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Vanessa Haley (Pic: Huddersfield Daily Examiner).

The woman who was the subject of the dishonest report is Vanessa Haley, who lives in Huddersfield, England. Her written evidence to the court said the assessor had tried to “impede her entitlement” to PIP by This affected the rate of the daily living component Ms Haley was given and led to denial of mobility support.

The county court awarded Haley £5,000 when Atos failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages. She had alleged maladministration and that it was responsible for causing her health conditions to worsen.

Atos has since explained why it did not defend the legal action. A spokesman said: “We were made aware this week of this judgment. Our initial internal investigation indicates that we did not receive the claim form at our registered office. Until this investigation is complete we must reserve our position.”

Ah, so that’s why no defence was offered. It was not the company’s fault at all. No, it was all down to the postal service. Believe that? No? Nor do I.

Atos made to pay

Speaking after the case, Ms Haley said: “I didn’t do it for the money. I wanted and still do want this diabolical treatment of the sick and disabled to be exposed and stopped.

“It is exhausting constantly being worn down by the machine that is the Department for Work and Pensions and the PIP system. It is rarely absent from my thoughts, and as a result my anxiety is through the roof.”

She told the Disability News Service she was “angry” that she and other disabled people were being “dismissed and lied about”, because “through no fault of our own we have found ourselves in unfortunate and reduced circumstances.

“We are constantly being lied about, repressed and vilified. Many disabled people have become even further isolated by this system and have lost much, if not all of their care,” she said.

This ruling goes beyond what many people have been saying, that assessments are unfair. Now, one assessment  has been labelled ‘dishonest’. And, if one is, you can bet this is not an isolated case; there will be others that are just as dishonest.

Is it too much to expect the DWP to take control of its contractors and to ensure honest assessments? It shouldn’t be but, yes, much too much to expect of this government or its ministries.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

 

 

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Assessment disgrace: ‘Fit for work’ man dies before ESA appeal can be heard

Disability benefit assessors have been widely criticised for deciding wrongly that people are ‘fit to work’. The situation is a disgrace, the criticism is well deserved.

There have been a number of examples, but none more tragic than the case of Phillip Balderson. He had terminal cancer, but received a Department for Work Pensions (DWP) ‘fit for work’ assessment in February. It meant he no longer qualified for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that he had received previously. The decision was a disgrace – and he died less than four months later.

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Phillip Balderson was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in 2013 (Image: cascadenews.co.uk)

Phillip didn’t live long enough to see his appeal through but this Thursday the Baldersons are taking his challenge to a tribunal. I, for one, wish his family every success.

The full story, written by John Jeffrey, appeared on Mirror Online. It read:

Cancer patient dies before he could appeal the DWP ruling that he was ‘fit to work’

Phillip Balderson’s heartbroken family will now challenge that decision at a tribunal after he battled oesophageal cancer, psoriatic arthritis, anxiety, OCD and mental health problems.

A cancer patient died before he was able to appeal a Department for Work Pensions (DWP) ruling that he was “fit to work”.

Phillip Balderson’s heartbroken family will now challenge that decision at a tribunal.

The 46-year-old had worked at a Lake District hotel, but was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in 2013.

He also struggled with psoriatic arthritis , anxiety, OCD and a number of mental health problems.

Despite his difficulties, the DWP summoned him to a health assessment in February 2017 and ruled he was no longer eligible for Employment [and] Support Allowance.

They told him he had to look for work.

Mr Balderson, originally from Burnley, Lancashire, began appealing the decision.

But sadly died on June 5 before he could see the process through.

His daughter Chloe Balderson, 23, said: “He had terminal cancer and they were trying to send him to work. The people at the job centre were disgusted.”

The family, supported by Citizens Advice in Windermere, will be attending a work capability appeal to overturn the decision at South Cumbria Magistrates’ Court, in Barrow, on Thursday, December 14.

If it rules in their favour, any benefit payments will go towards the funeral.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Balderson’s family at this time.

“We are contacting Mr Balderson’s next of kin to ensure they’re paid any benefits owed at the time of his death.

“The amount paid will be dependent on the result of the Work Capability appeal that is currently at tribunal.”

Terrible the way they treat people

Mr Balderson’s partner Rachel Stockley, 49, said: “He was getting Employment [and] Support Allowance, that was all fine, but then his dad died and his mental health got worse.

“Phillip just went downhill from there.

“Then he got a letter to say he had to go for an assessment and he was worried.

“He was being judged by someone who was meeting him for the first time and that was that.

“He was complaining about pains in his liver before he had to go to his job centre appointment, and got worse before his assessment.

“I’m doing this for Phillip really because he was gutted.

“I think it’s disgusting, it’s terrible the way they treat people.”

The family, who live at Maychells Orchard in Allithwaite, Cumbria, have suffered a number of setbacks as Miss Stockley was also diagnosed with cancer back in 2010.

She said her partner of 25 years never talked about his diagnosis and was “frightened” by it.

“He loved the quiet and loved walking, even when he was really ill we’d take him driving and he’d fall asleep in the car.

“The authorities need to show more concern towards people’s needs and not judge them by how they look but you see it all the time.

“You just can’t prepare yourself for it, even though you know it’s going to happen, it’s no different from someone dying suddenly,” she said.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

I suppose, by now, that the ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not surprise me. And while that is true, what does amaze me is its ability to keep proving it – over and over again.

Right now, besides all its usual carryings on, the department is fighting two similar but separate battles. It is trying its best, or maybe its worst, to hide information from the public. Information that we have a right to know.

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Photo: The Independent

First, the DWP is trying to hide from public scrutiny a report showing how well assessment company Maximus is doing. The company carries out the controversial, and widely despised, work capability assessment (WCA) for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It also includes a look at Atos’s record as far back as 2011.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the release of a copy of the report, which would give a breakdown of Maximus’s performance at each assessment centre. The DWP, however, is refusing to publish it and is now taking the case to an information tribunal.

Under-performance could damage reputations

The DWP claims that the information could “give a perception of under-performance’ which could ‘damage the reputation and standing of the companies involved”.

Duh, that’s the point. We all know the WCAs are a mess, this report would go towards proving just how bad it is. And the DWP as good as admits that the report could damage the standing of both Maximus and Atos.

The government ministry is therefore claiming that the report is exempt from disclosure because publishing it could damage the commercial interests of both Maximus and Atos, as well as the DWP itself.

Its second fight is to hide differences between Atos and Capita assessments, this time for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),

This time the DWP is refusing to release training materials which would potentially highlight difference between the way that Atos and Capita carry out PIP assessments, according to Benefits and Work (B&W).

DWP refuses Freedom of Information request to hide facts

hideBack in June, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information Act request for training and guidance materials issued by Atos to staff carrying out PIP assessments. Detailed guidance covers issues such as the way in which requests for the recording of PIP assessments are dealt with.

However, the DWP refused to release the guidance on the grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The campaigning website asked the DWP to reconsider its decision. B&W says these are not commercially confidential matters and there is a strong public interest in how PIP is administered on a day-to-day basis.

It says: “If there is a difference in how PIP is managed by different companies, then this is also a strong matter of public interest. Claimants ought to be able to be sure that their assessment is a standardised one and not one based on which company carries it out.”

The DWP, however, is having none of it. Once again, it continues to hide the documents because it considers them to be commercially confidential.

DWP says “commercially confidential” tag exempts it from FoI

The DWP said: “Release of this information would reveal to their competitors commercially sensitive information which would disadvantage IAS’s (Independent Assessment Service, the name that Atos now uses) competitive position in the marketplace.

“This in turn would prejudice the ability of the department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered. Release of this type of key financial information would also undermine the effectiveness of the department’s future dealings with IAS or other service providers.”

A B&W spokesman said: “The DWP now routinely refuses a large proportion of freedom of information requests on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It does this without attempting to justify in any way how anyone’s interests would be threatened.

“Benefits and Work is now applying to the Information Commissioner to have the documents disclosed.”

I receive both ESA and DLA, because of disability caused by MS. As such, I cannot allow horrendous cover-ups like these to go unchallenged – and I urge you to do the same. Public interest and freedom of information must triumph over so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’.

That is just a smokescreen behind which the DWP is using to hide the facts…the facts we need and deserve to see.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Two days to Moscow

With only two days to go before leaving home and travelling to Russia, to go to the AA Maximov Centre, that is one of the world’s leading providers of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Therapy (HSCT), you’ll no doubt forgive me for being a bit preoccupied at the moment.

Not that I am going there for the treatment, at least not yet. This time I’m just going for just four days, to undergo a series of tests as part of an assessment to see if I can have HSCT.

You might be wondering why that is necessary. Well, for most people it isn’t.

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the world's leading providers of HSCT.

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the world’s leading providers of HSCT.

However, in my case it is not so simple.

Unlike most people with MS, I have not had regular MRI scans two or three times a year; in fact, not even once a year. The truth is that apart from the scan that I had leading to my diagnosis 14 years ago, I have only had one more scan – and that was for a heart problem, not MS.

Interviewing Dr Denis Fedorenko a few months ago for Multiple Sclerosis News Today, our conversation touched on my health and my suitability to have the treatment that his centre offers. From what he heard, he said that he needed to carry out tests before a firm decision could be made.

I am firmly of the opinion that HSCT is the best treatment currently available for MS, so that is the reason that my emotions about this trip are a mixture of both hope and trepidation.

 

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Three disability assessors found wanting in attitude and conduct

Three nurses, all involved in assessing the seriousness of people’s disabilities, have been found to have breached professional ethics – all of which have been made public in quite a short period of time.

Just what is going on? People with disabilities deserve better.

First, a disability benefits assessor with extreme right-wing sympathies was suspended by UK government contractor Capita after she posted disablist, racist comments about social security claimants on her Facebook page.

The posts were spotted by Sarah Goldstein, whose claim for personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down following an assessment carried out by the qualified nurse.

Goldstein has significant support needs as a result of fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s syndrome, chronic migraines, anxiety and depression, and she was so angry and upset by the “lies” she read in the nurse’s assessment report that she searched online for her social media accounts. She says she was appalled by what she found.

On one occasion, in July 2014, while apparently watching an episode of the Channel 5 reality show ‘Benefits Britain: Life On The Dole’, the unnamed nurse posted a series of comments about a Roma gypsy who used a skateboard as a mobility aid because he lost his legs as a child in Romania.

On social media, the nurse commented: “I’d like to remove his wheels and catapult the scrounger back to whatever shit hole he came from!!!!”

Ms Goldstein’s disability has since been reassessed by a different assessor.

NMC_logoSince then, two other nurses have been found guilty of misconduct while employed as assessors by contractors working for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). They were both struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Heather Margaret MacBean was found guilty of misconduct by being drunk at work on June 27, 2013, although the Disability News Service reports that it is believed that she was drunk at work on other occasions.

A former health visitor and midwife, MacBean could have carried out hundreds of work capability assessments (WCAs), and it is believed that she also conducted disability living allowance (DLA) assessments.

The second nurse, Amelia Victoria Bailey pretended she had conducted personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the government contractor Atos.

The company and the DWP have since had to review every one of the assessments Bailey carried out between August and November 2014.

You just have to wonder if these three are just the tip of the iceberg. What revelations may be revealed in the future?

 

new strap

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Armless man told he can walk with walking aids. How?

Rchard Brookes.

Rchard Brookes.

A man with no arms who uses a wheelchair and a Motability car funded by UK disability benefits to get out and about has been told he can walk with walking aids

Yes, Richard Brookes has been informed that he has been judged by government-employed assessors as being able to walk up to 50 metres with walking aids. And that means he will lose a key benefit element and, with it, entitlement to his car.

Don’t walking aids depend on hands and arms? Yes, of course.

But you said he hasn’t got either arm. That’s right.

So how can anyone assess him as being able to walk with walking aids? Good question, it sure beats me.

His wife Sarah took to Facebook saying: “Don’t normally share my private matters on Facebook, but when my armless and disabled, crippled in pain husband has been assessed as able to walk up to 50m with walking aids, (quite a feat considering he has no arms and no-one has advised how he may be able to use these so called aids!), and that he could lose the lifeline of his Motability car within two weeks, that is when you know the system is very cruel…..I am so angry and worried for Richard Brookes.

“DWP should be ashamed of themselves….and the irony is he used to work for them….yes my disabled husband worked all his life until last May, and now the government that should help him is ruining his life.”

I have almost no words to say.

Almost, but not none at all. This episode goes beyond being unfeeling and disgraceful. It is despicable, it is cruel and shows quite clearly that someone is not doing his or her job properly.

In this case, we don’t need to wait for the appeals process to be completed. This is a clear case for the new work and pensions secretary Damien Green or even new prime minister Theresa May to step in to help Mr Brookes.

It is time that the British government put its people first and get rid of such a cruel, terrifying and absolutely worthless assessment system.

 

 

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