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a feature article by Mrs S... - disabled veteran - 22 June 2012
DISABILITY DENIAL FACTORIES WORKING WELL IN THE UK
Masquerading as medical assessments, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) engaged the services of Atos Origin Healthcare Services, better known as Atos Healthcare, whose staff can intimidate, harass and bully vulnerable sick and disabled people. These assessments, as conducted by Atos, are then used by the DWP to deny chronically disabled War Pensioners increases in their disability pensions, whilst the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) – a branch of the DWP - still claim to be concerned with the welfare of veterans, insisting that the assessment for a War Pension is different from the assessments used by Atos when considering disability benefits....but no-one told Atos. There are no differences between the assessments when using Atos staff instead of former military doctors....
Disabled veterans medically discharged before 2005 are now also at the mercy of Atos Healthcare medical staff, who conduct in excess of 800,000 government 'medical assessments' annually on anyone in receipt of disability benefits. Atos Healthcare claim to employ the largest number of doctors outside of the NHS, yet they enjoy 'total immunity from any medical regulation' according to the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Care Quality Commission. Meanwhile, the DWP remain resistant to overwhelming evidence from the national front line charities that the chronically sick and disabled people of this nation are reduced to being little more than government statistics; to be removed from the increasing costs of the welfare budget. (1)
I was medically discharged from the WRAF medical services in 1984 and awarded a disability War Pension for life. Due to increasing disabilities a doctor from Atos Healthcare, claiming to be a Disability Analyst, visited my home to undertake a deterioration assessment on behalf of the SPVA, who administer my War Pension. However, I didn't realise that this contracted doctor would be prepared to compromise medical ethics by supplying a totally bogus medical report, claiming that he had examined me, given that no medical examination whatsoever took place. His report simply copied verbatim parts of a previous detailed medical examination from 2006, undertaken by a former RAF doctor.
The Atos Healthcare doctor actually attempted to intimidate me in my own home. He repeatedly refused to show any form of identity, deliberately chose to sit facing the opposite direction to me making eye contact impossible, and he refused to permit me to speak freely by silencing me with a wave of his hand. This doctor's instructions were that I was only "permitted" to answer questions he deemed necessary to ask; he treated me with utter contempt and then sniggered at me as he left my home to write his totally bogus report that he knew would be accepted without challenge. As a consequence, the SPVA presumed that I had attempted to make a bogus claim and my War Pension was changed from an interim award to FINAL, which makes sure that I can never again be reassessed, yet this was for a diagnosed condition that can only continue to deteriorate over time.
If he had prepared better, the unethical Atos doctor would have known that I am a retired healthcare professional and more than capable of challenging any bogus medical report. He was very confident, callous and arrogant because the government contract with this private company confirms that medical reports provided by Atos Healthcare will be given 'priority'. In reality, any and all medical evidence provided by the claimant or their doctors, including Consultants, will not be accessed by the 'Disability Analyst' conducting the medical assessment. Therefore, one must wonder why all claimants are required to provide detailed medical testimony that will be totally ignored, as confirmed in letters from Atos Healthcare management.
The DWP Decision Makers, who are basic grade administrators, make decisions about disability benefits and military medical pensions when dealing with medical opinion for which they are totally unqualified as, by definition, any so called 'Decision Maker' required to consider medical opinion should be a medical administrator. Clearly, by using totally unqualified basic administrators guarantees that the DWP medical assessment system will be very successful as countless thousands of genuinely sick and chronically disabled people are rejected for the disability benefits they are entitled to expect. (2)
In reality the genuine long-term sick, the chronically disabled population and now even the dying are all under suspicion, including profoundly disabled veterans who were disabled in the service of this country. Meanwhile, the able-bodied general public applaud the introduction of these so-called welfare reforms, convinced by Government propaganda, and aided by dangerously misleading press articles, that most of us are work shy benefit "scroungers". (3)
One such victim of this government funded medical tyranny is a 53-year-old man known as Mr B..., who is terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumour. As the months past, and he weakened with each passing week, Mr B... fell victim to ever increasing numbers of Grand Mal epileptic fits, which were totally unpredictable but averaged three fits per day. However, despite a catastrophic diagnosis, Mr B... received threatening letters from the DWP insisting that he should have yet another Atos medical assessment, which required a 2-hour journey via public transport. Only the threat of legal action stopped this callous abuse. The government contract with Atos Healthcare actually identifies the terminally ill as being totally exempt from medical scrutiny, but this concession is limited to those with less than six months to live when terminal cancer victims may indeed survive much longer but the treatments are utterly debilitating.
The Atos Healthcare computer tick test 'medical assessment', using the Lima software, is nothing more than a very, very basic occupational health assessment and that system of assessment totally ignores all diagnosis, regardless of severity. The computer assessment is dangerous, completely inadequate and introduced following the influence of UNUM Insurance, one of America's biggest and most discredited corporate insurance giants, who have advised successive British governments since 1994. (4)
By definition, when care, concern, compassion and human dignity are removed from "medical assessment" the only thing left is medical tyranny. This is yet another example of civil servants and politicians dreaming up regulations about a vast subject area they clearly know nothing about, not least because they are invariably able bodied. Appeals against the inadequate Atos assessments are possible but, when so many people are already so ill, and the appeal system is close to collapse with waiting times of up to a year, this Atos assessment system is clearly totally inadequate and as far away as possible from any genuine medical assessment. (5)
Given that the Minister for Welfare Reform's only qualification is that he comprehends finance, his latest utterly appalling decision is that all disability benefits will be stopped if the claimant chooses to challenge the Atos assessment and applies to appeal. This may work in the world of finance, but not in welfare when the claimants' very survival, both physical as well as financial, is placed at risk. The benefits will be reinstated if the appeal is successful, but there is no compensation offered for the months of totally unnecessary distress endured when waiting for the appeal. WHY does this unelected, unqualified official have such authority??
Where are the political objections to what is rapidly becoming a DWP police state for all disabled people? We are all guilty until proven innocent it seems yet, by the government's own figures, bogus claims of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) number only 0.5% of all DLA recipients. This government has moved from one extreme to the other, with every chronically sick and disabled person presumed to be a bogus applicant, regardless of diagnosis. This is dangerous, callous and utterly unacceptable with hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people now living in fear of a future Atos assessment.
Another deeply disturbing example of this medical assessment nightmare was when friends were refused help for their profoundly disabled 5 year-old son. DLA had been requested to provide the family with a Motability car, with the application supported by both the family GP and the boy's Consultant Paediatrician. However, the DWP required confirmation and so the family were visited by a contracted Atos Physiotherapist. The Atos Physio's medical report actually claimed that the child may have problems climbing stairs due to "frequent ear infections" and totally failed to mention the fact that the little boy had a profound physical disability, with legs almost at right angles to his torso, so he is physically incapable of ever walking, running or climbing stairs. A strongly worded observational report by myself, as a retired healthcare professional, did it seems help to support the application for DLA, which was finally granted at appeal. Yet, where is the reprimand for a healthcare professional who knowingly provides a totally bogus medical report and willingly compromises her oath of office?? Where are the consequences for this company when breaching the DWP contract, at will, at a cost to this nation of £100 million per annum? Reprimands don't exist as the DWP hang on every word reported by the contractor in order to reduce budget costs, and the welfare of the victims of this medical tyranny is clearly of no concern to DWP Ministers.
It is an absurd irony that this medical evaluation system was introduced to prevent bogus welfare benefit claims yet, in reality, it can be easily demonstrated that at least some Atos Healthcare staff create totally bogus medical reports. Ten consecutive annual reports by His Honour Judge Robert Martin, when President of the Appeal Tribunals, all challenged the medical reports of this private company confirming that they "...did not coincide with reality..." (5) yet the DWP persistently ignored all reported official evidence and no action was taken. Yet, interestingly, it was Atos Origin who won the £multimillion contract for the IT support for the 2012 Olympic Games... following rigorous competition of course.....
Access to emails between the then Medical Directors (MD) of Atos Healthcare, Dr David Beswick, and Dr Paul Kitchen at the SPVA, were most revealing. Indeed, Dr Beswick refused to provide a personal reply to my letters, with his opinion always offered via the National Customer Relations Manager, Mr Brian Pepper. Email exchanges between these two senior doctors, sent to me anonymously, confirm that this company MD refused to commit anything in writing to me as the General Medical Council (GMC) "...will investigate every word written so I must be cautious." Therefore, Dr Beswick's clear priority was limiting any possible investigation of himself by the GMC and clearly not claimant welfare. (5)
In a letter received from Dr Kitchen, he actually confirmed that ATOS Healthcare were "not prepared to investigate" my concerns at all until he became involved, yet one needs to enquire why he had not been informed of my complaint months earlier given that it is a contract requirement for Atos to report all complaints to the DWP within days of receipt. Clearly, there is no supervision whatsoever of this private contractor and instead of supervision we find adoration, as everyone at the DWP and the SPVA hang on every word produced by Atos Healthcare staff and support the private contractor. Hence, overwhelming evidence from the President of the Appeal Tribunals, Macmillan and other national frontline charities, the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the many victims of this government funded medical tyranny can all be disregarded by the DWP. (5)
The 500 page DWP contract in my possession requires Atos Healthcare to acknowledge all letters within 5 days of receipt, but they don't. This contractor is required to advise the authority when they receive a complaint, they are certainly meant to advise the results of any complaint investigation within 20 days and, most important, they are required to provide a specialist medical opinion for several conditions including all cases of terminal cancer, and musculo-skeletal disorders but, quite simply, they don't. (5) Eventually, in order to protect other disabled veterans, I decided that it was time that the SPVA were advised of my shockingly unacceptable experience. Indeed, if not for my complaint, the SPVA would still not know or care that I had been in a dispute with this private contractor for over 9 months.
Even more sinister, the contract requires the DWP to audit the Atos contract yet, in a lengthy letter sent to a dying man, the Manager of the DWP Commercial Management of Medical Services freely admits to Mr B... that no auditing has ever taken place but, of course, there have been regular DWP meetings with this contractor to confirm "performance targets." (6) She uses language chosen to confuse but in her letter Hilary Brierley confirms that "... the Department has not exercised its contractual right ('rite' MS) to access for purposes of auditing Atos Healthcare's compliance with its contractual obligations." Someone, somewhere should surely ask this woman why she thinks that breaching a £100million per annum government contract can be reduced to a "contractual right"('rite' MS) as opposed to a contractual obligation? (5) (6)
The Work and Pensions Select Committee, Chaired by the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, established that Atos Healthcare knowingly overbook appointments by 20% every day. (7) Atos justify this by claiming that some claimants fail to attend, thus securing their throughput and totally ignoring the vast efforts that sick and disabled people must make to attend any assessment centre. Hence, chronically sick and disabled people make the effort to attend an appointment with this corporate giant, only to discover that there was never any intention of assessing them on that particular day if other claimants kept their appointments. This is considered to be business efficiency whilst the victims of this system, that treats all claimants with contempt, appear to be of no consequence. Profits before people is the name of the game, and is another reason why Atos Healthcare's disability denial factories are not needed in the UK with some claimants calling Atos call centres up to 135 times just to make an appointment. (7)
It is clinically unprecedented for the medical opinion of a junior doctor or other healthcare professional, identified as a Disability Analyst, to supersede the opinion of a Consultant who, by definition, is a medical expert. However, using the excuse that the Atos computer assessments are assessing ability to work, and not making any clinical diagnosis, the Lima occupational health 'tick test' basic software is used. This assessment software is totally unfit for purpose, with the possible answers to questions being far too limited (5), hence the growing numbers of shocking DWP decisions that force often profoundly ill people to seek employment. As a result, to date there have been 150 suicides and deaths relating to these Atos 'medical assessments.' (8)
This private contractor's computer assessments have been totally discredited by the Disability Alliance, who represent the national front line charities, whose opinions are totally ignored by the DWP, as are the opinions of the President of the Appeal Tribunals, that all expressed concern regarding the assessments undertaken by Atos Healthcare that "...failed to coincide with reality." (9) The President, His Honour Judge Robert Martin, advised that the reason there were so many successful appeals was that the appeal service offered the claimant the opportunity that someone would actually "be willing to listen" to the claimants. (9) Successful appeals are running at 40% in England and a massive 70% in Scotland. (11)
Atos Healthcare assessments aren't needed in the UK and the Minister for Welfare Reform, who represents all that's wrong with the system, remains all powerful yet unelected. Lord Freud continues to demonstrate that his only concern is the welfare budget and totally fails to comprehend that, by definition, chronic disability is usually permanent. Therefore, constant reassessments for a permanent condition, that can't ever improve, is administratively incompetent and an unnecessary waste of limited resources. So, the question needs to be asked as to why does this unelected Minister have such authority when his past is in finance, not welfare, and much of the proposed welfare reforms are dangerous and have dire consequences for those too frail to challenge any DWP decision. (5) (8) (9) (10) (11)
These are the chilling limitations of welfare reforms conducted by a Minister who lacks any detailed knowledge of chronic disability, or any identified concern, and a government that refuses to accept all expert evidence, demonstrating that the only priority is the welfare budget and not the welfare of over three million of the most chronically sick and disabled people in the UK who are totally dependent upon it. This is what happens when successive UK governments offer a highly discredited US corporate insurance giant the opportunity to 'guide' welfare reforms. (11)
Countess Mar recently warned the Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, of the dangers of this government 'sleepwalking' into the situation comparable to 1930s Germany, "...when disabled people and older people were regarded as a burden to the state." (10) She was reflecting on the growing levels of disability hate crime and Baroness Rosalie Wilkins confirmed that the "...vilification that people are getting on the streets was causing such damage to people's lives." Given the extreme, dangerous and totally irresponsible reporting found in the national press in recent times, it's very clear that the UK has been sleepwalking in that direction for long enough (3) (10), yet the on-going Leveson Inquiry have yet to confirm these findings.....
It is time to get back to reality. We have over three million profoundly sick and disabled people in the UK in receipt of disability benefits, and some of us are veterans disabled in the service of our country. It's time to tell the DWP that disability costs money. They should stop terrorising the British people just because governments have bankrupted the country, sick and disabled people make very easy targets and this is how the US treat their own welfare claimants. (12) We don't live in America!! This is the UK. Decent people who elected this treacherous government didn't give them the authority to terrorise the weakest in society, whilst awarding millionaires top jobs to make sure that those with the least suffer the most and then watch as bankers award themselves £multi-million annual bonuses. Perhaps this is the legacy of using millionaires in the Cabinet ................?
Meanwhile, a highly discredited American corporate insurance giant is waiting to benefit from the terrified 'squeezed middle' who are buying their Income Protection Insurance, for use as a 'back-up' plan, as the DWP demonstrate that the welfare state is being disintegrated. This was planned by the Thatcher government in 1994 and we are witnessing the progression to the tyrannical US style of welfare, funded by private insurance. (5) (11) (12)
Almost 2 years after my application for a reconsideration of my War Pension, it was finally and suddenly increased, and backdated, following a visit by a Consultant acting on behalf of the Appeal Tribunal, and not in the employ of Atos Healthcare. The Appeal Tribunal was therefore allowed to lapse, just weeks before the planned hearing. My RAFA Representative felt that this was "... very, very rare and a huge climb down by the SPVA" that coincided with Dr Kitchen discovering that I had access to his email exchanges with Dr Beswick, demonstrating that he was totally subservient to the MD at Atos Healthcare.Dedicated to and in loving memory of KAREN SHERLOCK Rest In Peace
Mrs S..., Disabled veteran (WRAF), Retired healthcare professional - 22nd June 2012
(1) NOT WORKING: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/not_working_march_2010_final.pdf
(2) Up to 500,000 wrongly denied Incapacity Benefit: www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jan/03/incapacity-benefit-compass-survey-dwp
(3) How the press are reporting disability: www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/bad-news-for-disabled-people-report ... ... -reveals-extent-of-media-misreprentation
(4) PRIVATE EYE - Issue number 1301 - Mutual Benefits: www.private-eye.co.uk
(5) ATOS, UNUM & THE DWP - the planned destruction of the welfare state: www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveterans.html
(6) WHY WAIT FOREVER – the personal experience of Mr B... and his battle to find justice: www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html
(7) The role of incapacity benefit reassessments: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmworpen/1015/1015.pdf
(8) MINISTERS WARNED OVER ADDING FUEL TO DISABLIST FIRE: www.bhfederation.org.uk/component/k2/item/1557-ministers-warned-over ... ... -adding-fuel-to-disablist-fire.html
(9) British people are choosing suicide to escape poverty. Is this the states final solution? poultonblog.dailymail.co.uk/2012/03/people-are-choosing-suicide ... ... -to-escape-poverty-is-this-the-states-final-solution.html
(10) Report by the President of Appeal Tribunals on the standards of decision-making by the Secretary of State 2007 - 08 www.appeals-service.gov.uk/Documents/SSCSA_PresRep07-08FINAL.pdf
(11) WELFARE REFORM - REDRESS FOR THE DISABLED: www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveterans.html#report
(12) AMERICA - LAND OF THE FREE, HOME OF THE HUNGRY by George Younge, US Guardian columnist: www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/dec/09/land-of-free-home-of-hungry