From Pulse, a newsletter for GPs, 21 August 2012 (story by Jaimie Kaffash).
The National Audit Office has called for the Government's contract with Atos to provide medical assessments to be overhauled to be made ‘more challenging'.
In a letter to Labour MP Tom Greatex, the auditors said targets in the contract between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the private provider to assess the fitness to work of people on disability benefits were not appropriate.
The letter from National Audit Office director general Amyas Morse, dated 2 August, said:
‘We have recommended that the department consider tightening the performance requirements on the contractor in relation to the quality of medical assessments.
‘We do not consider that the current contractual targets are sufficiently challenging, and in our view this allows the contractor to deliver a significant number of assessments before financial penalties become due.'
The National Audit Office noted Atos had met the target in all but two months of the contract.
In March this year, Pulse reported the GPC had raised concerns about the contract, after LMCs warned that GPs were being swamped with requests from patients asking them to support their appeals to overturn fitness to work judgments.
The GPC had said it was alarmed by the high success of appeals against original fitness to work judgements made under the work capability assessment.
The DWP said a quarter of people who had received work capability assessments to date have had appeals heard against rulings by Atos assessors. Of this quarter, 38% have had their fitness-to-work judgments overturned.
A spokesperson for Atos Healthcare said:
‘We meet our obligations in delivering a complex and challenging contract. We have also been flexible with the DWP and implemented all the changes and recommendations from the Harrington report.'