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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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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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Benefit assessor lied, say doctor and nurse

Assessors working on behalf of the UK government, to evaluate claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) continue to be the cause of endless complaints for their unacceptable behaviour. PIP is the welfare benefit paid to people with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities, and the behaviour of some assessors is well below the professional standards we have a right to expect.

disability-news-serviceA benefits assessor working for the outsourcing company Capita repeatedly “lied” in her report, after carrying out a face-to-face assessment of a disabled nurse which was observed by her husband, a retired GP – according to an article posted on the Disability News Service website.

The disabled woman and her husband have asked not to be named – so their claims have not been put to Capita or the Department for Work and Pensions – but they have provided proof to Disability News Service (DNS) that they are both on their respective professional registers.

They believe the behaviour of the Capita assessor, herself a registered nurse, makes her unfit to remain in her profession.

Although DNS has received a string of credible reports from disabled people who say their benefits assessors lied in reports written after face-to-face medical assessments, this account is particularly credible because the behaviour was witnessed by both a nurse and a doctor.

The woman, Mrs A, lodged a complaint with Capita even before she knew the result of the test because she and her husband were so appalled that last month’s assessment at their home in south Wales was so rushed, impersonal and poorly carried out, and ignored key questions.

Mrs A, who has significant support needs due to a series of medical conditions, had already had to fight to have her disability living allowance (DLA) restored after it was stopped by DWP when her PIP claim form was lost in the post, while “rude and confrontational” staff then refused to provide her with a replacement form.

The couple say the assessor made almost no eye contact during the PIP assessment, but spent most of the time typing on her laptop, while she continually interrupted Mrs A as she tried to explain the impact of her impairments on her daily life.

Worst fears confirmed

Mrs A said that when she and her husband saw the report the assessor had written, their “worst fears were confirmed”.

As a result of the report, Mrs A’s previous entitlement to the higher rates of both the mobility and care components of DLA were downgraded under PIP to the standard daily living rate and no entitlement at all to the mobility element.

She has now put in a second written complaint, this time about the content of the report and what they say are the assessor’s lies.

Both Mrs A and Dr A say they have a duty as healthcare professionals to expose the assessor’s actions.

Among their many concerns is that the report stated that there was no evidence that Mrs A was wearing hearing aids, when the briefest of checks would have shown they were in place behind her ears.

The report failed to mention her painfully swollen leg, and said that Mrs A refused to stand, when in fact the assessor had recognised she was in too much pain to stand and so did not ask her to do so.

Among many other concerns, the report failed to point out that Mrs A was clearly “distressed, in pain and anxious”, and failed to note the forgetfulness and slowness of thought she showed during the assessment.

Dr A said the report was “an absolute fabrication”.

He said: “The actual examination was laughable. It took a few moments.

“My wife couldn’t even stand up… yet somehow she was able to infer that she could walk more than 50 metres but less than 200.

“How do you infer that from someone who wasn’t even able to get up out of the chair?

“She said she couldn’t see the hearing aids. She didn’t even look to see if the hearing aids were in place. How difficult is it to move a couple of hairs?”

He added: “It was appalling. Every single sentence in that report can be torn apart.”

Mrs A, who is not able to do clinical nursing work because of her impairment, said she believed the assessor “had an agenda”.

She said: “I feel hurt that a nurse, who is also a colleague in a way, would behave in this manner.

“Nurses are supposed to act with integrity in all that we do. We know how important recording of information – truthfully – is.”

She added: “We feel the nurse is acting dishonestly.

“I cannot understand how if you are a nurse you wouldn’t act impartially. I don’t understand how you can be both a nurse and a PIP assessor.

“The public rely on the integrity, honesty and openness of nurses. As a nurse myself, this kind of behaviour has to stop.”

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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?

 

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