Atos Origin staff ‘awarded erroneous Incapacity Benefit claims’

From the Birmingham Post, 9 April 2008 (by Neil Connor, chief reporter)

The Midland headquarters of a firm which processes applications for incapacity benefit awarded "erroneous" claims to meet Government targets, it was claimed yesterday.

Doctor Gail Young said procedures at Atos Origin put "undue and inappropriate pressure" on doctors to classify applicants with high levels of disability to ensure claims were successful.

Dr Young, who resigned from the Atos office in Five Ways, Birmingham, after 13 years’ service last year, is claiming constructive dismissal against the company. She is also claiming compensation from Atos for suffering detriment because she tried to blow the whistle on these practices.

A colleague, Dr Jakes Branton, is also pursuing the second claim at the employment tribunal which began at Phoenix House in the city centre yesterday.

Dr Young’s allegations centre on claims that she was victimised for attempting to highlight practices in which applicants were classified as having higher levels of disability than was the case.

The doctor, who was a Sessional Doctor Performance manager at Atos, claimed she attempted to raise concerns about the practices by carrying out studies into applicants with high medical assessment scores, which signified high disability levels.

She claimed the company carried out this practice to ensure that complaints against doctors or reworks (mistakes in applications) were kept to a minimum.

Dr Young claimed statistics on complaints and reworks would have been monitored by the Department for Work and Pensions at the same time as Atos was attempting to secure a £500 million seven-year contract, which it subsequently obtained.

She told the tribunal: "The consequences of having a report submitted for rework are negative for a doctor in that the report has to be amended in his or her own time.

"If too many rework requests are submitted, performance management may be imposed which may be followed with disciplinary action. There is thus an incentive on doctors to give appropriately high scores in order to avoid rework and complaints.

"Reworks also have a negative impact on Atos Origin in that under the contract between Atos and the DWP severe financial penalties are imposed for excessive numbers of reworks as this is felt to reflect on the level of service provided by the company."

Dr Young said she attempted to draw attention to the link between an increasing number of cases which had high levels of reworks and low disability levels. Her other studies were also "dismissed", she claimed.

"At a management meeting held on October 4 2004 we were told not to discuss disallowance rates which had become available following advances in the computerised system," she said.

"The reason was this would become problematic to the company should the information become available to the DWP."

Dr Young added that staff at the company were not provided with any other information "until after the (DWP) contact was awarded" the following year.

She added: "My main concern was for the health of the applicants who were either applying to receive benefit or to be maintained on benefit.

"It was my belief that by awarding benefits when this was not appropriate the health of an applicant could be adversely affected or endangered.

"I felt by using such initiatives the company was breaching its legal obligations to provide fair and impartial reports, and that we were assisting the erroneous award of benefits."

Dr Young was signed off work by her doctor for six months because of stress.

The case continues.

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