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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Disabilities: Official papers reveal failings of assessment contractors

Devastating papers, reluctantly released by the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), reveal frightful failures of a key disability benefit. In particular, the papers show the shortcomings of outsourcing contractors hired to carry out assessments of applications.

That means that critics of personal independence payment (PIP), and the way it has been introduced, have been fully vindicated. And, in those critics I include myself-

The papers, popularly dubbed the ‘PIP files’, lift the lid on what has been going on. This includes:

  • up to 180 PIP assessors employed by Capita and Atos were the subject of at least four complaints each in three-month periods in 2016;
  • 161 assessors working for Atos had more than three complaints made against them in a three-month period;

Neither Atos nor Capita, or the DWP, will say what action (if any) was taken against these assessors. Similarly, they refuse to say whether those involved are still carrying out face-to-face assessments of disabled PIP claimants.

  • that Atos and Capita contacted health and social care professionals to ask for information far less often than the government estimated would be needed.

In fact, both outsourcing companies have failed to request vital evidence from GPs and social workers. Such evidence could help disabled people secure the benefits they are entitled to receive.

Further evidence

According documents prepared in May 2012, the DWP had expected contractors would need to ask for further evidence in about 50% of cases. But the latest papers show:

  • In June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims. That’s less than 2% of cases;
  • In June 2016, Capita sought further evidence for just 380 of the 21,554 PIP assessments it dealt with. Incredibly, just a little more than 1.75%.

The figures are contained in official reports, prepared by contractors Capita and Atos, for the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The PIP files were released under FOI to Drew Hendry of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). He has been MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey since the 2015 general election.

disability employmentAdditionally, a report by Disability News Service says:

Nearly one in three of the disability benefit assessment reports completed by a private sector contractor were significantly flawed, confidential Department for Work and Pensions documents suggest.

Unacceptable assessment reports

The figures were revealed through a government audit of personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports that had been written by staff working for under-fire outsourcing giant Capita in 2016.

The audit, which examined more than 4,000 of the 190,000 assessment reports completed by Capita from April to December 2016, found that about 7.5% of them were so poor as to be deemed “unacceptable”.

But with another 14% of assessments, DWP concluded that the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 12% of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws in the assessor’s report, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 33% of the Capita reports audited during 2016 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

Shocking, right? Of course, but it is nothing that disability campaigners haven’t been saying about PIP assessments for a long time,

Sources:

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: DWP documents show ‘absolutely shocking’ failure on further evidence

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: Data shows multiple complaints made against scores of Atos assessors

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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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Drugs, risks, spending cuts, deaths, new drugs, and so much more

As we reach the start of another year, it seems a good time for me to review the last 12 months, as seen through the eyes of 50shadesofsun.com.

January

The year began by focusing on hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Dr Denis Fedorenko of the HSCT centre in Moscow published a guide to the procedure.

Russian Physician’s Guide to HSCT in Moscow

people withFebruary

UK government policies grabbed my attention, along with actions regarding people with disabilities and benefits to which they are entitled.

Disabilities: Government loses tribunals, then changes rules

Disabilities: Government warned forced activities ‘could make health worse’

More flock to accuse disability assessors of lying

March

New treatments came to the fore this month. Ocrevus gained approval from the FDA, while Zinbryta got the go ahead for use in the UK.

After Long Wait, Zinbryta Gains Approval in Areas of the UK

Ocrevus: Counting Down to Expected FDA Approval

April

Allegations had been made that new disability access policies at Disney parks was discriminatory. However, a court decided that the new way of doing things was perfectly ok.

Disney Disability Access Rules Don’t Break Law, Court Rules

May

MS treatments were in the spotlight once again. Questions were being asked about the drug safety and why many people choose to avoid them.

Mixed messages about beta-interferon safety to treat MS

Why are DMTs – Drugs to treat MS – Resisted by so Many?

June

My attention was caught by one of the UK government contractors trying to put the chaotic assessment process behind it. It chose to change its name but that was fooling no one.

I also looked at the much valued and desired matter of independence.

Atos tries to escape its past though superficial rebranding

Even a little independence is a great feeling

July

Risks appeared on two fronts. First, death and serious injuries to patients to the use of Zinbryta being limited in Europe. Second, people with disabilities in the UK were still facing the risk of benefit cuts.

Zinbryta use restricted in Europe after a death and four serious liver injuries

Disability benefit cuts are still a real risk

August

Issues with lack of balance and mobility means that falls are a frequent reality. However, not all falls are the same.

I also looked at MS treatments and how close we might be to finding the holy grail – a cure.

Falls – the good, the bad, and the ……

Cure for multiple sclerosis: Are we close?

September

Inside criticism surfaced about mismanagement of disability benefits. Nothing new to me but good to have confirmation from within. On the same tack, the UK government department responsible for benefits was trying to hide assessment problems.

Talking of confirmation, my theory the MS is linked to glandular fever, or mononucleosis, was backed by researchers.

Department helpline worker lambasts mismanaged disability benefits system

I said it 14 months ago, now researchers agree: MS is linked to ‘mono’

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

October

A number of drugs were labelled ‘rip-offs’ in a new report. These included MS drug alemtuzumab.

UK government officials proved they do not understand variable conditions, such as those experienced by people with MS.   

MS therapy alemtuzumab is named a ‘rip-off’ drug, report

Disability benefits stopped because government doesn’t understand variable conditions

November

The number of people wth MS in the USA is more than double that previously thought. Could that be similar elsewhere?

We knew UK spending cuts were dangerous but now we know that they have ben responsible for needless deaths.

Nearly 1 million Americans have MS, not 400,000 as previously thought – NMSS Study

Needless deaths caused by government spending cuts

December

Great to see the doctor who first suggested CCSVI treatment could help people with MS now agrees this isn’t true.

However, shocking to see that someone assessed as ‘fit to work’ died before the appeal could be heard.

CCSVI treatment does NOT work for MS, says clinical trial

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

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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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Treasury minister blames disabled people who work for fall in productivity

Government policies relating to people with disabilities appear to be in even more disarray than usual. Once again, those with disabilities resulting from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, or any other cause, are under attack.

The department for work and pensions’ assessment system for disability benefits is ‘encouraging’ disabled people to find work. But chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond seems to be singing from a different songbook. That’s because he is blaming people with disabilities who work for Britain’s low productivity.

productivity

Chancellor Phillip Hammond. pictured on budget day.

The Treasury Select Committee asked Hammond about the fall in UK productivity that he mentioned in his budget speech. In reply, the chancellor (treasury minister) said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce.”

He stated that this includes “far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people.”

While he followed the government line that this is “something we should be extremely proud of”, he went on to say that it “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

However, that is neither fair nor accurate. People with disabilities are not the real reason for the drop in productivity. No, the real reason is closer to home – it is a series of government policies.

Of course, the chancellor didn’t want to admit that. So, he tried to use disabled people to distract the committee from the truth. But, all that led to a more than ironic situation.

Productivity: A government-made crisis

Not so long ago, people on disability benefits were demonised as scroungers and skivers. Now, though, it is the turn of disabled people in work. Hammond is trying to demonise them for lowering the productivity of the whole workforce. That would be funny, if it wasn’t so sick.

Labour’s work and pensions shadow secretary Debbie Abrahams was quick to condemn Hammond.

She said: “It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies.

“This is coming from a government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their (the government’s) failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions. The chancellor should apologise immediately.”

I agree, Hammond should say sorry. He should apologise for wrongly blaming the disabled for the country’s drop in productivity. He should apologise for failed economic policies for which he, as chancellor, is directly responsible.

In fact, Hammond should apologise for being chancellor – and then resign.

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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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New government figures reveal a third of new applicants with MS are refused key disability benefit

One-third of people with MS are turned down when they first apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a key disability benefit, the government has admitted.

The MS Society discovered the facts by questioning the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The department told the society that, in the four years since PIP started, 31% (4,100) of new claims from people with MS were found to be not eligible. And, worryingly, a further 6% (1,100), who initially qualified for PIP, were later turned down following reassessment.

turned downThe figures only include at new claims for PIP made since 2013. People being reassessed from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP are not involved.

It comes as no surprise, however, that appeals against being turned down for PIP have a high rate of success. Indeed, independent appeal tribunals decide that 65% of appellants should be awarded the benefit.  

These government figures clearly show the PIP assessment process is fundamentally flawed.  

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “It’s insulting that so many people who are diagnosed with a long-term condition are being told they don’t qualify for support.

Turned down: PIP hurting people

“These latest figures show PIP isn’t just hurting those who’ve been moved across from the old system (DLA), but also new people who are trying to get support for the first time.

social care“PIP is meant to help manage the extra costs of living with a disability and assist people to be more independent. But it’s a tougher system than DLA, with much stricter rules. In too many cases, assessments fail to reflect the barriers people with MS face.”

It’s high time that the government reviewed PIP. It is imperative that assessments reflect the reality of living with MS as well as other disabling illnesses and conditions. Disabled people being turned down is not right.

The MS Society wants to see these changes:

  • Assessments for people with MS being done by assessors who have professional experience of neurological and fluctuating conditions and adequate training.
  • An evaluation of how PIP rules take into account hidden symptoms like pain, fatigue and cognitive problems.
  • Improvements in processes around providing medical evidence.

This would be a start but any review needs to go much further. It needs to address every concern, every shortcoming. What’s the chance of that? With the present government, I’d say somewhere between slim and none.

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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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Assessments for disability benefits cause ‘terrifying insecurity’

A pressure group has warned that the government’s disability benefit assessments are the cause of “terrifying insecurity”. What’s more, it says assessments are driving disabled women to destitution, and even “hastening their deaths”.

The warning was given by WinVisible, a group for women with disabilities, of all backgrounds, ages, and situations. It came when the group submitted evidence to the UK’s House of Commons work and pensions select committee. The committee is looking into assessments for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) assessments. Both benefits are claimed by people who are sick or have disabilities, many with MS.

assessmentsThe campaigning group said both ESA and PIP assessments cause terrifying insecurity. WinVisible told MPs that the insecurity leads to “suicides or admissions to NHS psychiatric institutions”.

Government benefit cuts, and how they are implemented, cause enormous suffering, destitution, and hasten deaths of sick and disabled people, says WinVisible.

The group provided the committee with examples of disabled women whose PIP or ESA claims have been disallowed because they missed face-to-face assessments.

One woman lost her ESA entitlement because she was unable to run to catch a bus, due to a long-term health condition. As a result, he missed her assessment. Her entitlement was disallowed even though she had rung the centre to tell them she would be 10 minutes late.

Face-to-face assessments distress

Another woman, a mental health service-user and child abuse survivor, was placed in the ESA work-related activity group after she was assessed, and was pressured to apply for jobs. Once, when she arrived at a meeting in tears, an adviser for Maximus apparently told her: “You can choose to be a victim or you can go and get a job.”

After intervention by both WinVisible and the woman’s MP, contractor Maximus apologised and the DWP agreed to place the her in the ESA support group. People in the support group are not required to look for work.

A third woman lost benefits for several weeks because she cancelled a face-to-face assessment to attend an urgent medical appointment.

WinVisible told the committee that one woman said: “The hoop jumping, form filling and getting support to get benefits, and keep them, has pushed me to the end of sanity and destroyed my faith in the powers that be.

“I have been made to feel like a criminal and guilty before being charged.”

It’s good that the select committee is holding an inquiry into the assessment system. It’s high time something was done, but I don’t think anything good to come from it. Even if the select committee calls for the system to be changed, don’t expect the government to listen.

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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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Assessment complaints for disability benefit up nearly 900% in a year

Complaints about assessments for a key government disability benefit have rocketed by 880% in 12 months, according to official figures. It is a benefit paid to people with diseases like multiple sclerosis and those with other disabilities.

Yes, claimants’ complaints about assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that totalled 142 in 2015-16, rose to 1,391 in 2016-17.

assessments

Photo: The Independent

Furthermore, if that was not shocking enough, it gets worse. The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has produced figures that show that the number of complaints about PIP assessments that were upheld. Over the same time, these rose from 67 to 545 – an increase of more than 713%. To me, that is a sad commentary on the lack of quality of the assessments and honesty of the assessors.

The facts were revealed by Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, in answer to a parliamentary question from Stephen Kinnock.

assevssmentsBenefitsandwork.com, the campaigning website, commented: “In our last newsletter we highlighted the case of a PIP claimant who had used a secret recording of his PIP assessment to win his appeal tribunal.

“Given this level of doubt about the trustworthiness of assessments, and given the difficulties the DWP place in the way of claimants wanting to openly record their medicals, covert recording seems more and more reasonable.”

Not fit for purpose

According to Disability News Service, Kinnock claimed the figures were “further evidence that the PIP system is not fit for purpose”, despite the assessment system being in place for more than four years. He said:

assessments

Stephen Kinnock MP.

“While the scale of this is truly shocking, it is not in the least bit surprising, because week after week I hear from my constituents about how claimants are treated, how they are humiliated, belittled and denied basic human dignity.

“Government has been told by MPs, claimants and by disability experts that the system needs reviewing.  

“Instead, they have carried on regardless with their ideological drive to remove the help which people so desperately need, so that they are able to manage the basic daily costs of living with a disability.” 

A spokesman for the DWP is reported to have been unable to offer any explanation for the huge rise in complaints. He commented: “Complaints may be made for a variety of reasons and there is no evidence to suggest that there is dishonesty in the assessment system.”

Yeah, right!

Assessments appeals going online

PIP assessments appeals, and those about other benefits, are set to change. This is because HM Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has reached stage two of the roll out of online hearings.

It says that virtual hearings and online hearings using ‘rapid messaging’ will become a reality over the next 18 months. Apparently, it will be possible to appeal online and track the progress of the case by text, email or online.

Many are likely to welcome the chance not to have to attend a face-to-face hearing. However, paper hearings have a very much lower success rate than in-person hearings. Claimants may well seek physical hearings, if the same low success rate applies to ‘rapid messaging’ hearings. 

HMCTS says in-person hearings will still be available “for those that need them”. My question is: Who will decide if a claimant is in ‘need’ of one? It should not be the DWP.

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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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Department helpline worker lambasts mismanaged disability benefits system

Once again, we have a story of government mishandling of disability benefits and allegations of the existence of targets. Targets that don’t officially exist, as if we believe that.

dwp

Photo: The Independent.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insider has described to the Disability News Service (DNS) that a “mismanaged” and under-funded social security system is leaving many disability benefit claimants penniless and helpless. And those claimants include people with MS and other disabilities.

George (name changed to protect his anonymity) works on DWP’s employment and support allowance (ESA) helpline. He told DNS that the experience has left him shocked and frustrated at the deeply flawed system.

Also, he says he believes – although he does not have direct evidence of this – that DWP decision-makers do have targets for the proportion of claimants that they need to find “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.

DWP decision-maker ‘hates job’

Additionally, George claimed that a colleague in another part of DWP, who actually works with a decision-maker, told him that the decision-maker hates his job. This is because he must “disallow people” and was “struggling to hit his disallowance targets”.

DNS has been unable to verify this claim, but disabled activists have been warning for years that they believe DWP decision-makers, and the healthcare professionals who work for the government contractor Maximus, are set targets for the proportion of claimants they must find fit for work.

DWP has continued to deny imposing any such targets and no-one has been able to provide strong evidence that they exist. Even George says he believes such targets do exist, although he cannot prove it.

“I think decision-makers are trying to meet targets,” he told DNS.

No disparaging story about the DWP’s management, or mismanagement, will ever surprise me. I hope you feel the same way.

Read Disability News Service’s full report here.

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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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