Government department’s “no information” claim is just a feeble cover-up

A government department responsible for disability benefits has effectively admitted that vital documents were not shown to an expert hired to conduct a review. The papers link its controversial ‘fitness to work’ test with deaths of benefit claimants.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims it has no information about whether the reviewer was shown copies of peer reviews and two prevention of death reports. Of course, if they had been given to the reviewer, the action would have been noted.

no informationIts “The information is not held” response to a Freedom of Information request, I contend, is an admission of guilt. Those of us who have personal experience of the DWP simply won’t be convinced that it is telling the truth. We see it for what it is, a feeble attempt at a cover-up.

Actions are always recorded but any lack of action isn’t – as there is nothing to note. Therefore, ‘no information’ means the documents were NOT shown to the reviewer. And that is unforgiveable.

The FOI request was submitted by the Disability News Service. Its full story can be read 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 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 for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Junior minister suggests world ‘realities’ mean government attacks on rights are likely to continue

Any cherished hope that the government could embrace the opportunity of doing something positive for disabled people seems misplaced.

This came to light when a justice minister effectively dismissed calls for government action. That is, action to do more to protect the social and economic rights of disabled people and others.

rights

Dr Phillip Lee.

The hard truth was revealed by a junior justice minister Dr Phillip Lee, whose responsibilities include human rights. He spoke at the launch of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report on Britain’s progress in implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

He said that “the realities of the world” – including population growth, an ageing society, and mass migration – and “finite resources” meant the government could not afford to meet the report’s call for action on the rights laid out in the covenant.

That means NO action on:

·        rights to work, including safe and healthy working conditions;

·        social security and an adequate standard of living;

·        the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;

·        education and cultural life.

Although the ICESCR was ratified by the UK in 1976, the EHRC report says the “overall picture” with its implementation in the UK “remains deeply concerning”.  It goes on to say that the government has “failed to show why its tax, policy and legal reforms since 2010 were necessary and fair, and how they align with human rights standards”.

It also says: “Social security reforms made by successive UK Governments since 2010 have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people, resulting in a regression of their rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social protection.”

Rights ‘recognised’

Disability News Service (DNS) reports that Lee said he recognised the rights laid out in the covenant and said the EHRC report provided a “timely” and “useful summary” of the commission’s views on the government’s progress in its implementation. He added that it highlighted “some key issues and certainly gives us some pause for thought”.

The clear indication that no action would be taken was when he said he wanted to “talk from the heart”.

According to DNS, he said it was “all very well talking about social and economic rights” but the world was changing “at an ever increasingly-fast pace”. This, he said, includes population growth, developments in artificial intelligence, an ageing population, and migration.

He added: “It’s all very well talking about rights… but the corresponding thing is responsibility, duty, duty to others, duty to each other, duty within the community, responsibility within communities, responsibility of our country and the world.

“Although I congratulate you on your work and recognize it’s well-motivated, I have to deal with realities of the world.”

rights

Virginia Bras-Gomes.

Virginia Bras-Gomes, chair of the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights (UNCESCR), later told DNS that there was a “growing concern” among her committee that progress in realising those rights had “come to a standstill”.

The UK government appears to “know what the difficulties are” – including migration and an ageing population – she said, but added: “What I don’t see happening in many countries, including the UK, is that not everything is being done to use the resources the country has to deal with the difficulties.”

She said: “There is a growing defiance on the part of developed countries to say, ‘look at all the difficulties we face, we cannot go beyond what we have done already’.”

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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 for your general knowledge only. It 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. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Officials must report their success or failure to prevent tribunal awards

Government officials who attend benefit appeal tribunals seem to be judged by how well they do. Success is when they prevent high-level awards to disabled people.

This affects appeals for both personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA). These are benefits claimed by many with disabilities such as those caused, as in my case, by multiple sclerosis.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) information shows that the officials, presenting officers (PO), must report back to their bosses.

They must say whether they persuaded tribunals not to grant enhanced PIP awards. They also required to report if they persuaded tribunals not to award claimants eligibility for the ESA support group.

Indeed, each PIP PO’s report has to include an answer to: “PO impact – was enhanced PIP award averted?”, or for ESA: “PO impact – Was SG award averted?”

tribunalsThe facts were released, reluctantly, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Disability News Service (DNS), last September.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, described DWP’s admission as “truly appalling”. And that probably echoes the mildest reaction that I could give. Does it mean that the POs are rewarded for success in tribunals? We deserve to know.

A civil servant inside DWP told  DNS: “With (the) government trying to subvert justice by restricting enhanced payments, then it is something I must try and highlight and fight.”

He said this attempt to restrict enhanced payments was placing an “immoral pressure” on POs.

De Cordova said: “The idea that the ‘impact’ of DWP staff is being assessed on whether they managed to get ESA support group or enhanced PIP awards ‘averted’ is truly appalling.

“Presenting officers are supposed to be there to provide fair and balanced evidence of a claimant’s needs.

End to privatized assessments?

“In May last year, freedom of information requests revealed that the DWP was setting targets to reject 80% of social security appeals at mandatory reconsideration. They clearly haven’t changed their approach.”

She added: “The whole system is broken: from assessments where, for example, only 8% of claimants think assessors understood their mental health, through to appeals where judges are overturning over 67% of initial ESA and PIP decisions.

“Labour will scrap the current PIP and ESA assessments, bringing an end to the Conservatives’ failed, privatised assessment system.

“Instead of enforcing a culture of distrust and cost-cutting, we will work with disabled people to ensure that they have personalised, holistic support to live full and independent lives.”

Disability campaigner John Slater said: “Surely the only concern for POs or any civil servant within the DWP is that a claimant gets the social security benefits they are entitled to, paid at the appropriate rate for their specific circumstances.

“People’s behaviour changes to meet the targets/measures that they believe they are being monitored against.

“If POs specifically have to report about enhanced PIP or ESA support group being awarded, then any reasonable person must conclude that the DWP sees it as their job to stop that happening.

Interestingly, according to DNS, information published by DWP states that the role of a PO is both:

·        to present the department’s case,

·        to “draw the [first tier tribunal’s] attention to new points in the appellant’s favour”.

“Instead of providing balanced information that is fair to the claimant, the department’s freedom of information response appears to show that POs are being told to prevent as many enhanced awards as they can for PIP and ESA,” it says.2

DWP: PO is not there to prevent an award

tribunals

Photo: The Independent

A DWP statement said: “The role of the presenting officer (PO) is to present at first tier tribunal (FtT) hearings and support the FtT in making the right decision.

“At the tribunal the PO is able to set out why the department has reached the decision it has based on the evidence supplied to date.

“Frequently more evidence is supplied on the day of the tribunal, and by having a PO in attendance the department is able to consider this new evidence alongside the tribunal and, if appropriate, change the original decision.

“A PO is not there to prevent an award being changed, but to ensure that the award is correct.”

Yeah, right. We all believe that, don’t we?

The statement continued: “For example, judges have recently commented on the improved appeal responses, which are more personalised and better focused on areas such as mobilising descriptors.

“We have improved our feedback processes and in many cases our POs have actively supported people to increase their awards when further evidence is presented at tribunals. This includes applying new descriptors in favour of the claimant.

“At a recent tribunal, a PO was able to point out that case law had changed in the favour of the claimant, and this resulted in the judge and PO jointly agreeing on an increased award.

“This demonstrates our commitment to law and instructions whilst understanding the complex needs of some of our customers.

“In addition to making sure the right entitlement of benefit is awarded, the PO is also able to provide valuable feedback on why a decision may have changed.

“This is fed back to decision makers and forms part of any improvements we can make to our processes.”

Latest news

DNS has submitted a fresh freedom of information request to DWP. It asks whether the number of enhanced and support group awards that POs prevent at tribunals affects bonuses they receive. Good question!

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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 for your general knowledge only. It 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. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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.

* * * * *

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Atos

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.

 

 

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.

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.