‘Atos move leaves DLA decision-makers guessing’ | Disability News Service | 15 November 2013

November 20, 2013

From the Disability News Service (story by John Pring), 15 November 2013.

Disability benefit decision-makers have been left without expert medical advice to call on for most of their cases, after the outsourcing giant Atos Healthcare withdrew from large parts of a key contract.

Doctors employed by Atos used to advise Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision-makers on the more difficult claims for disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA).

Atos has also been providing doctors to visit claimants in their own homes to carry out full medical reports, again under a medical services contract.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has learned that the long-term contract to carry out this work ran out three months ago, and since then Atos has been providing the service on a month-by-month basis.

Now the company has pulled out altogether from most of the work, leaving decision-makers – the civil servants who decide whether or not a disabled person will receive the benefit – without any expert medical advice to call on.

An internal bulletin to staff says that Atos Healthcare has been providing medical services for DLA and AA claims for “many years” but that this support would now be on “a revised basis”.

The move is thought certain to lead to an increase in appeals from people whose DLA and AA claims have been turned down, with decision-makers forced to rely more on guesswork as they make decisions “on the balance of probability based on available evidence at the time”.

DWP guidance is being rewritten, with Atos doctors only available for claims from people with terminal illness, and for those claims from disabled children being dealt with at just one regional benefits centre.

Although personal independence payment (PIP) has now replaced DLA for new working-age claims, under-16s still have to claim DLA, and over-65s must claim AA to cover their care needs.

And due to delays in the PIP rollout process, existing DLA claimants across London and the south of England, the north of England, and Scotland, are still being assessed for DLA rather than PIP if they report a change in their care or mobility needs, if their fixed-term award is about to expire, or if they reach the age of 16,

A DWP spokesman said:

“It’s a revised service. Guidance has been provided to decision makers and decisions made will be informed decisions based on information provided.”

He said that the withdrawal of the Atos doctors would not damage the quality of decisions because decision-makers could use information “from a variety of sources”, including the claim form, care plans, and reports from GPs and consultants.

The internal memo is just the latest evidence that problems for Atos – which has numerous government contracts – are continuing to mount.

Despite DNS having seen the bulletin, and DWP admitting that it was genuine, Atos has so far refused to confirm that there have been any changes to its medical services contract.

Campaigners already believe that Atos has contributed to or even caused the deaths of thousands of disabled people, because of the way its assessors have carried out the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) on behalf of the government.

But last month, DNS learned that meetings between Atos and DWP civil servants were taking place across the country because a recruitment crisis had left the company with a severe shortage of doctors.

The public spending watchdog is also investigating concerns about the award to Atos of at least one of the contracts to assess those claiming PIP – following a DNS investigation – as part of a major “value for money” study into the new benefit and its implementation.

And in July, the government announced that it was bringing in new companies to join Atos in carrying out WCAs.

2 thoughts on “‘Atos move leaves DLA decision-makers guessing’ | Disability News Service | 15 November 2013”

  1. Civil servants have been told they can judge whether to pay benefits to ­the sick by ­Googling their illnesses, after proper tests were scrapped.
    In a memo leaked yesterday, Department for Work and Pensions staff were instructed to look online when assessing new claims for Disability Living Allowance for under 18s and Attendance Allowance for over 65s.
    Shadow Work Secretary Rachel Reeves accused the Tory-led Government of showing “utter contempt” for disabled people.
    The Labour MP said: “Out-of-touch ministers need to explain to disabled people how they’ve got to a situation where guidance is being issued telling civil ­servants to look for advice on complex disability cases on the internet.

    Since being appointed as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010, Iain Duncan Smith has had so many problems with statistics it’s earned him the nickname ‘Iain’s Dodgy Stats’……..
    ……..The way ministers tell the story affects how people see our lives. It is one thing to live with the physical challenges of a disability – it is quite another to hear misinformation every day from our own government.”
    The women, who both suffer from fibromyalgia and other health problems, had only ever met through Facebook – but they decided to launch a Change.org petition together calling for IDS to be held to account over use of statistics. Within weeks, it had 105,069 signatures.
    Yesterday, the petition was placed by Jayne’s MP Liz Kendall, according to tradition, into the green bag behind the speakers’ chair.
    Hansard records that “The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Work and Pensions Select Committee to question Mr Duncan Smith at their earliest convenience to hold him to account on his use of statistics and further requests that the House requires Mr Duncan Smith to retract any incorrect statistics…”
    Meanwhile, the Select Committee has agreed to “examine the way DWP releases benefit statistics to the media”.

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