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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Atos tries to escape its past though superficial rebranding

There is a new company providing assessments of people claiming government disability benefits in the UK. Well, no, there isn’t.

You see, the new name, Independent Assessment Services, is just a rebranding exercise.

True, the name is new but it is the same bad old company.  It is still Atos Healthcare but now in disguise. No doubt it hopes to escape its reputation. as Atos has been the subject of numerous allegations.

atosIts assessors have been accused of numerous, serious and harmful failings in the way they have carried out assessments. The most recent example is that one of its assessors left a disabled woman to sit in her own urine for nearly two hours. Now, Atos launched an investigation.

This was after a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation that found many cases where claimants described how assessors from both Atos and the other assessment company Capita, filed dishonest reports of face-to-face assessments.

According to DNS, Gail Ward, from disability activist Black Triangle Campaign, responded to the rebranding by accusing Atos of “trying to create a “smokescreen” to cover up its “incompetence” in carrying out assessments.

She said: “Atos can rebrand all they wish. We will still call them Atos at every opportunity.”

She stated that Atos’s actions had left many disabled people trapped in their own homes, after losing their entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), with many having to return their Motability vehicles.

Many grassroots campaigners were receiving requests for help in dealing with “fabrication of facts” in Atos PIP assessment reports. This had caused many sick and disabled people “a great deal of distress”.

Her Black Triangle colleague John McArdle added: “Atos has not changed its spots and is still working as the government’s henchman.

“We see the same litany of wrongdoing reported by DNS. Fraudulent reports, and catastrophic harm being caused to disabled people.”

He said the attempt to rebrand itself as a “respectable organisation” would fail6. He added: “Atos is infamous for carrying out systematic abuse of the fundamental human rights of disabled people.

“It is a toxic brand. It is a byword for corporate wrongdoing worldwide.”

Atos defends new name

An Atos spokesman said last week: “We believe the new name better reflects the role the company undertakes on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and the assessment work the company carries out.

“The change also follows the first independent review by Paul Gray which recommended a number of changes to claimant communications.

“It was planned and implemented in consultation with a number of disability representative organisations. They are supportive and welcome the change.”

However, DNS denied that. It said: “The two disability organisations Atos said supported the name change told DNS that they did no such thing.”

Interesting!

The spokesman added that policies – and assessment procedures – remain unchanged,

Now, that is a shame, because it seems that all the problems stem from those policies and procedures.

Changing the name is not enough. It is superficial. The company needs to change how it does its work, its culture.

People who are responsible for dishonest assessments, whether individual assessors or in management, have no business being there. Heads should roll.

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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 Features Writer with Medical News Today. 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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ESA New Compulsory ‘Conversation’ brings more Sanctions, and a Dispute over Co-design Claim

We can tell when politicians are lying because it happens whenever their lips move and words come out.

We don’t like it but we know it’s true; it’s the same as a politician’s promise – worthless. But it is now spreading beyond those who are elected, and I find that extremely concerning. This time we have caught out two senior civil servants.

esaOnce again, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is at the heart of the matter. It claims, wrongly, that disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) had “co-designed” a new scheme with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions attached.

I have to congratulate the Disability News Service (DNS) for its tenacity and determination to expose the truth in the face of continued denials from the DWP.

The DNS revealed in March that nearly all new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) would have to attend a new Health and Work Conservation (HWC) with a DWP job coach. Attendance would be compulsory and claimants’ benefits sanctioned if they failed to take part “without good cause”.

The HWC can take place weeks or even months before claimants have their ability to work tested through the work capability assessment.

HWC co-designed or not?

DNS reported details of the HWC from a presentation delivered by the two senior DWP civil servants.

They are Ian Anderson, DWP’s project and programme management head of profession, and Matt Russell, its policy advisor for disability employment strategy. They claimed the HWC was “co-designed with the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), health charities, front-line staff, disabled peoples’ organisations and occupational health professionals”.

DNS says it has now obtained the names of those DPOs and charities. It used a freedom of information request to DWP to obtain the list.

All of those contacted by DNS have denied any endorsement of the HWC. In its report issued yesterday, it quotes four leading DPOs. Each refutes the DWP’s claim.

DWP stands firm on ESA

A DWP spokesman refused to apologise for the claims by Anderson and Russell. That is despite the DPOs stating clearly they are firmly opposed to sanctions, conditionality and a mandatory HWC.

He said: “We used various feedback to help design the HWC – however not all contributions will have been used.”

He said that any actions agreed by an ESA claimant in the mandatory HWC would be voluntary. There will be DWP “safeguards” to ensure “appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC,” he added.

Of course, we all believe that – don’t we?!

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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, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

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More flock to accuse disability assessors of lying

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Isn’t it amazing how the number of people who choose to speak out about injustices multiply once the first reports are published

Many more disabled people have come forward to describe how the healthcare professionals who assessed them for the UK government’s disability benefits lied in the reports they compiled. The benefits are paid to people with many different disabilities including multiple sclerosis.

Their evidence further confirms the results of a two-month Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, which revealed last week how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

disability-news-serviceHaving seen the first revelations of the DNS, more personal independence payment (PIP) claimants have come forward with their own evidence of dishonest assessors.

The second DNS report said:

One PIP claimant, who has impairments including ME, fibromyalgia and a heart condition, has described how his disability living allowance (DLA) award of the higher rates for both care and mobility was lost after his PIP assessment left him with zero points (a claimant needs eight for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).

He remembers his assessor telling him when she arrived at his home and he asked if she knew anything about ME and fibromyalgia: “I’ve dealt with a couple of people with yuppy flu before.”

He said: “When I received the assessor’s report I thought it was for another person as it contained so many omissions, inaccuracies and conjecture. There were also several instances of fabrication.”

Information from his previous applications for incapacity benefit, DLA and employment and support allowance (ESA), and his successful appeal decisions for DLA and ESA at tribunal, had been omitted from her report.

David told DNS: “The report states I carried out tiptoe and ‘balancing on each foot’ tests and had no problems walking. I did not walk a step and did not carry out the tests described.

“The report states that I turned around in my chair and picked up a bottle of medicine from the surface behind me – the surface behind me was an oven hob and all my medication was on the table in front of the assessor.”

When he described how his medication had sent him to sleep in his back yard, the assessor claimed that he said instead: “I wonder [sic]round the fields outside my house,” while being able to open a ring-pull can was interpreted as “able to prepare a meal”.

He is appealing the decision, and is complaining about his assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

David said: “Since receiving the report, the consequences of dealing with the complaints procedure and making another tribunal appeal have been a noticeable deterioration in my health and have put a strain on both my wife’s and my own mental health (loss of peace of mind, anxiety, knocks to self-confidence and a feeling of being discriminated against because of the nature of my disability).”

Many other claimants came forward and told similar stories.

A DWP spokeswoman told the DNS:

“We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments.

“We do not accept it to be the case that there is dishonesty amongst them.

“As we said, we are committed to making sure the PIP assessment process works fairly and effectively, which is why we welcome independent reviews such as the ones led by Paul Gray, the second of which is expected in April 2017.

“Anyone not happy with their benefit decision can ask for it to be looked at again, and then appeal to an independent tribunal.

“There is also a comprehensive complaints procedure in place for claimants who are not happy with the service they have received from providers.”

So many tales of wrongdoing, yet the government department does not accept there is dishonesty among its contractors’ assessors. What is wrong? It is high time that government ministers and civil servants opened their eyes, ears and put whatever brains they have to good use. In fact, the evidence exists, they just need to approach it with open minds. It is time for action not complacency or denial.

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Shameful that charities ‘sell out’ people with disabilites

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Several leading disability charities are being criticized, by a user-led disability group, for flirting with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and  seeking to gain UK government contracts. The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said that the charities are ‘selling out’ and that there is no way that the charities could speak out strongly against DWP if they won multi-million pound contracts under the new programme. It is shameful that the charities are even considering such actions.

disabilitiesLinda Burnip, DPAC co-founder (pictured, left), said: “It is clear to everyone that organisations taking money from the government to provide services of any kind will not be in a position to campaign in any effective way against its policies on welfare reform.

“These contracts are rumoured to be worth between £2 million and £30 million and once part of propping up the system, any independence to criticise it will be lost. It is shameful that organisations supposedly existing to benefit disabled people are willing to sell them out in such an abhorrent way,” she said.

I agree with Ms Burnip and think it is disgusting  and deplorable that the ‘big seven’ disability charities – most of which are not user-led – all admit they have not ruled out seeking such contracts.

All seven have told the Disability News Service (DNS) that any contracts they win from the government will have no impact on their campaigning work, including whether they speak up about social security reform, including cuts to disability benefits and back-to-work policies for disabled people.

But their generally supportive responses to the government’s work, health and disability green paper – which was published on October 31 – could suggest otherwise. Indeed, one of them – Mind – has already been “caught lying”, according to the DNS, about its interest in seeking DWP contracts under the Work and Health Programme.

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MIND chief executive Paul Farmer is confronted by protesters.

It says: “Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, told protesters on October 31 that the charity had ‘no contracts with DWP’ and that he was ‘not interested in future contracts at this stage’.

“His lies were exposed when a disgruntled employee leaked internal documents showing that Mind was applying to join a DWP framework that would allow it to bid for contracts.”

Last month, the charity’s policy and campaigns manager, Tom Pollard, joined DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser.

Asked whether winning DWP contracts would impact on its campaigning work, Mind said that it “always speaks out about the issues that we believe impact on people with mental health problems, and we don’t enter into financial relationships which would prevent us from doing this”.

The DNS investigation came as the Charity Commission confirmed that it has written to Mind’s trustees following a complaint about the charity’s close links with the government – and about Farmer’s lies – by Dr Minh Alexander, an NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist. A Charity Commission spokesman told DNS: “The Charity Commission can confirm that a concern was raised with us regarding the charity Mind.”

The DNS contacted the other six charities. Leonard Cheshire Disability  said that it already provides services under the government’s Work Choice programme, but refused to say if it was seeking contracts under the Work and Health Programme, or if any such contract would impact on its campaigning work.

RNIB said that it was “exploring” possible involvement in the Work and Health Programme as a “specialist sub-contractor”, although only if any programme was “entirely voluntary” because “we don’t support the sanctioning of individuals’ benefits if they do not attend a programme”.

Action on Hearing Losssaid that it “may consider DWP contracts in the future”, but denied that this would impact on its campaigning work.

Scope said that it had “yet to make a decision regarding upcoming opportunities to deliver employment support but hope to make an announcement in the new year”. A spokeswoman said: “We have been and will continue to speak out on the issues that matter to disabled people.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said it was too early to say if it would bid for contracts, but if it did “it would likely be in partnership with other disabled people’s organisations”, and that it would “never compromise on being able to speak out about issues of welfare reform”.

Finally, Mencap’s head of employment, Mark Capper, said the charity was “disappointed” to see that the framework for the main contracts “appears to favour large businesses rather than third sector providers who can offer specialised support”, and that it would not want to be involved “unless significant changes were made to involve third sector providers”. But a spokesman added that the charity “may” consider smaller contracts “if we believe they will allow third sector providers to support people with a learning disability into employment”.

The green paper includes the possibility that DWP could in future force all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” activity, including those in the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group.

Leonard Cheshire Foundation, RNIB, and Action on Hearing Loss all welcomed the publication of the green paper. The other three charities were more critical, although none of them could be said to have attacked the green paper. DNS reported: “Disability Rights UK criticised elements of the green paper, pointing to its failure to announce any new incentives or requirements on employers, calling for more enforcement of the Equality Act, and warning that the government appeared to be cutting funding for employment support.

Mencap welcomed much of the green paper but was critical of the planned £30-a-week cuts to ESA, and said that the possible changes to the support group “could cause deep concern to sick and disabled people”.

Mind also welcomed parts of the green paper but, like Mencap, was critical of the support group measure, while it also criticised the government’s failure to consider “a fundamental rethink of the way conditionality and sanctions are used”.

Multiple sclerosis charities the MS Society and the MS Trust both guardedly welcomed the green paper, as I have previously reported.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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