‘Revealed: the taxpayer’s £300m bill for claimants who are fit to work’

April 20, 2008

From The Mail on Sunday  (by Becky Barrow)

Doctors are being pressured into signing off more than 70,000 workers a year who are well enough to work, a tribunal heard.

The practice, which is an indirect result of Government targets, costs the taxpayer £300million a year, it was said.

The claims emerged in a tribunal case brought by two doctors in Birmingham. They say targets had created a bias in the medical assessment system, which made it easier for false claimants.

Up to one in five of those applying for benefits was wrongly assessed as incapable of work, the panel heard.

Dr Jakes Branton and Dr Gail Young were employed by Atos Origin, which has a seven-year, £500million contract with the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out checks on incapacity benefit applicants.

If a worker is ill, they receive statutory sick pay for about 28 weeks. After this, they can apply for incapacity benefit.

But to receive it, they must be independently assessed by Atos Origin.

Its doctors examine about 30,000 a month to see whether they are eligible for the Government handouts, of up to £84.50 a week.

But Dr Branton and Dr Young say the firm was under "significant pressure" from the DWP to meet targets for levels of complaints from applicants.

There were severe financial penalties if cases had to be looked at again.

This led to doctors being pressurised to exaggerate a worker's degree of incapacity – as they would be less likely to object to the results, they said.

Dr Branton estimates this problem with the assessment system was costing up to £300million extra in handouts each year.

Dr Young, from Leamington Spa, and Dr Branton, who now lives in France, are claiming a total of £1.3million in compensation from Atos for mistreatment and loss of earnings after they blew the whistle.

Dr Young, who worked for Atos for 13 years, is also claiming constructive dismissal.

The case is due to finish next month. Atos confirmed it was aware of the claims, and is contesting the tribunal.

The DWP said: "All aspects of Atos Origin's performance under their contract with the Department is robustly managed by a dedicated and highly experienced contract management team.

"Statistical information relating to contractual targets is regularly analysed and validated.

"DWP are the decision makers on benefit entitlement and not the doctors who carry out the medical tests."

First day of hearing (Birmingham Post report) 


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