Monday, July 30, 2012

Panorama - disabled or faking it? BBC2 8.30pm tonight

Panorama has revealed evidence of disabled or sick people being cleared as fit to work by the Government’s Work Capability Assessment in spite of medical advice given by their own GPs.

Professor Harrington, the man appointed by the Government to review the assessment, told the programme that the success of the test is ‘patchy’ and that as a result, people who are genuinely unable to work will suffer. He says:
“There are certainly areas where it’s still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement.”

Over two and a half million people in the UK are required to take the test because they are too ill to work. The contract between the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos Healthcare, who conduct the Work Capability Assessments, is worth a billion pounds and runs to 2015. However, more than 176,000 cases go to appeal tribunals each year, costing the taxpayer an additional £50 million. Almost a third of these cases are overturned.

Neil Bateman, a Welfare Rights Advisor says that his success rate for appeals is much higher and that the system is badly flawed:
“I think I’ve won all of the appeals so far. 80-90% with experienced advisers is quite common, which is ridiculous that we’re getting such a fantastic success rate. The way they gather the evidence and the quality of the decision-making is badly wrong.”
Stephen Hill was sent to his first Work Capability Assessment in 2010 when he gave up his job as a sandwich delivery man after being referred for tests on his heart. His wife Denise was with him at the assessment. She says:
“She checked him out. She did his blood pressure and his heart and said to see a doctor as soon as possible.”
Steve did and was immediately referred to a consultant.
However, when the ESA results came in, despite the fact the assessor had recommended he urgently see a doctor, Stephen had been given no points in the assessment, and subsequently found fit for work.  In the meantime, medical consultants had diagnosed him with heart failure.
Steve won his appeal but this was followed up with a demand to return for another assessment.
“He got a letter for another medical and I couldn’t believe it,” says Denise. “He’d got to go for a medical when he was waiting for a heart operation.”
According to Denise, the second assessor was more interested in a problem with Steve’s knee than his heart. Once again he was awarded zero points and the assessor wrote in Steve’s report that “…significant disability due to cardiovascular problems seems unlikely.”
Steve’s family say that the second assessment decision started to affect him in an unexpected way. His son Shane says:
“He started doing more. He started thinking, well I must be ok now, I must be fit for work if they’re telling me I am. On Boxing Day he hoovered the car out and as he was taking it back into the house, that’s when he collapsed and had his heart attack and died.”
Stephen Hill died 39 days after being found fit for work. Shane Hill says: “You believe doctors are right so it doesn’t matter who’s doing the assessments.”
However, Steve Hill may not be a one-off. Between January and August last year, an average of 32 people who the department of work and pensions thought could be helped back to work died every week.

Panorama spoke to an Atos Healthcare professional who carries out the test. They are afraid to be named because of a confidentiality agreement with Atos but told Panorama that the Work Capability Assessment is too rigid.
“There are people who you would like to be able to award ESA [Employment and Support Allowance] to but you can’t. If you are doing it absolutely honestly, they just don’t get the points you know, that’s it, they’re stuffed.”
Atos insiders say that they’re also under pressure to see eight patients a day and with the paperwork around each examination, it could impact on the Work Capability Assessments.  “We’re under pressure to see eight patients a day, even if it’s impossible to do. I’d like to think that the quality of my work is consistent but time pressure doesn’t help.”
In a statement to Panorama, Atos said that their staff “carry out thousands of assessments every month in accordance with detailed guidelines as set by the Department of Work and Pensions… Any serious suggestion that our work has fallen short of the high standards we set ourselves… is investigated as a matter of course.”
However, local GPs like Chris Johnstone believe that they’re left to pick up the pieces when patients fail assessments. He says that the test - far from saving the Government money – is adding to NHS costs in poor areas.
“We are busy at the best of times and we are now having to fit in more people whose appointments are more for their benefits than they are for their health.”
Staff at the Maudsley Hospital in South London feel that they’re picking up the tab for a system that has gone badly wrong.
Andy King has bi-polar disorder and had already been feeling unwell when he was told he would have to be reassessed for ESA.
“That was quite a blow. I thought I might lose a big part of my benefit… and that’s what resulted partially in me being admitted to the Maudsley in mid November.”
Andy had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spent time in the hospital catatonic and unable to speak. The decision about his claim was made without him being seen – he was put into the Work Related Activity Group, which means that he was to be supported back into work.
The dedicated welfare team at the hospital appealed the result of the assessment and won.
Shelley Leckey from the Maudsley Welfare Team says they’re now overwhelmed with helping people like Andy appeal wrong decisions.
“We’re having to call upon the resources of the doctors and nurses, and social workers, to put everything together to send off to the Department of Work and Pensions.”
The government says that the system is being improved and assessors are getting new training in working with vulnerable people.
But according to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who recommended that training, there is some way to go.
Panorama: Disabled or Faking It? will be shown
on Monday at 8.30pm on BBC One.
Ends
Should you use any of the above information, please credit BBC Panorama.

For further information, please contact Matt Hall, BBC News Publicity on 07730 562 918 or matthew.hall@bbc.co.uk

14 comments:

Bill Kruse said...

Since it appears to highlight how essential thr appeal process is, let's hope the program makes it clear from next year the government will be blocking the right to appeal.

Cirret said...

Panorama will actually be on BBC2 to make way for OoOoO coverage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lldrc (except analog in Wales and NI)

Anonymous said...

Is that something that has been released under the radar Bill? Hidden by a good news (or worse news than that)day, or do you have inside knowledge? That would be a disaster.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anonymous, but lower tier (first tribunal) will not have access to legal aid, and it will be compulsory for there to be a DWP system of looking at the claim again, but seemingly without the previous time limits, which is seen as not just a delaying tactic, but as an actual attempt to stop people from getting to the tribunal stage sooner.

Gordon Pye said...

http://nollyprott.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/green-holocaust-2/

Anonymous said...

I have been sacked/not kept on in 5 teaching jobs over 10 years because of severe recurrent depression. I also have an auto immune disease which causes arthritis and severe fatigue.I want to work but no one will take me on. My problem is not attending work and doing a good job, but continuity, I'll typically do three weeks at work then need one off sick. I went for my atos assessment and "passed" but only because I was feeling suicidal at the time. A copy of the report said that I had no disability from either my depression or auto immune disease.TRUE madness.

Chris Brown said...

I'll be watching, and commenting.
Having been through the ATOS medical mincing mill and won (surprise) at tribunal, having been made more ill by the process, as well as getting the impression I was assumed to be faking and not wanting to work.
Which does wonders for self-esteem.

Chris, with Asperger's and CFS, starting to blog at http://chrisbofcabra.blogspot.co.uk/

andavane said...

Christ, this is beyond belief.
I am now terrified! :o
John Champneys

Anonymous said...

The tory mantra has always been no benefits of any kind they dont believe in them . I worked for the Dss in the 70/80s a and it was constantly drummen into us. Were going back to those days with a vengence.what can be done to stop them I dont know .probably nothing.Very worrying.

havantaclu said...

I am sending this on behalf of my husband Samburumike, who is severely dyslexic and consequently very nervous of putting pen to paper (or fingers to computer keys!)

He has been through the assessment procedure for Industrial Injury Benefit on two occasions. On both occasions he failed to obtain what our doctor and ourselves considered a reasonable settlement, and appealed. On both occasions the appeal was successful. He is now retired, and (hopefully!) won't have to go through the process again.

His suggestions are as follows:

The first assessment should not be done by a qualified medical doctor, of whom the assessee is likely to be in awe - after all, psychologically, one expects a doctor to tell the truth about one's condition! Instead, the assessment should be made by a qualified nurse, who after all would be capable of taking blood pressure, checking movement levels etc.

The Decision Maker should be a fully qualified doctor, independent of the DWP, who will also have before him the local practitioner's notes and any specialist's assessment made at hospital. There must be no attempt to impose quotas at either stage.

If the assessee then remains unhappy with the assessment, the paperwork should go to another (not the initial Decision Maker) doctor for review.

If the result still remains unsatisfactory to the assessee, there should be a tribunal of three doctors to adjudicate the appeal. One of these should be the assessee's own local medical practitioner. There should also be a lawyer who would be able to elucidate any points of law that might be in question, who is not one of the three people on the tribunal.

We hope this gives a positive approach to the way in which the system could develop, which will be fair, and seen to be fair, by both the assessee and the public in general. It would also relieve the DWP of any accusation of imposing targets.

Anonymous said...

Haventaclue.

I have a better suggestion. Lets start any assessment with the question;
"Is this person too ill to work?"

This is a sickness benefit after all.

It could be followed by;
"Is this persons disability such that they will experience significantly reduced employment opportunities?"

The true insanity is that this is a sickness benefit that tests for disability.

Anonymous said...

I hope you have all seen this from journalist Sonia Poulton to Ed Miliband

open letter/petition about fit to work tests

https://twitter.com/soniapoulton

Anonymous said...

I went through all this nonsense last last being transferred from Incap to ESA (bear in mind I already am in receipt of the highest rates of both components of DLA). I provided ATOS with over 1000 pages of medical reports and clinical notes prior to the assessment. I went to the assessment with one of my carers (always take a witness!!), the ATOS doctor had all of my notes in front of him - the first words out of his mouth were "I am not reading all that lot, I just briefly skimmed through it."

He did say I was not fit for work on mental health grounds (apparently this is extremely unusual) but recommended the WRAG, which I had to attend once whilst I asked for a different decision maker at the DWP to look at my appeal (before going to any tribunal, which is your right) - certain salients points were made clear in the request, which included yet again 1000 pages of photocopied notes and reports ( at £50 a go - cheaper to invest in a scanner/copier and paper).

I made clear that the ATOS doctor refused to listen to changes that had occured since submitting the ESA application form, (all in front of an independent witness), providing said evidence, and also pointing out facts such as that despite providing numerous expert reports from independant specialists that I had in fact lost most of the use of my right hand and arm due to being shot and further compounded by clinical negligence (a court case was sub judice at the time against 8 NHS Trusts and other defendants for clinical negligence) - the ATOS doctor had stated in his report that there was "no significant dysfunction to upper limbs", which was plainly incorrect and even a simpleton could have seen just by looking at either my injuries or reading independent expert medical reports, or my clinical records at treating hospitals.

My decison was overturned by the second decision maker (by the way they are not clinically trained, just a DWP clerk), and I was placed in the Support Group.

I had been told by 4 seperate workers at the DWP to appeal the decision by ATOS.

My overall general health deteriorated throughout this relatively short appeal process (one month) due simply to the fact that I was completely astonished that a "GP" couldn't be bothered to do a full assessment, or read my notes.

My advice if you are genuinely ill, and have a bad decision made by ATOS is to see a professional to deal with an appeal. You can request a copy of the ATOS doctors report (form ESA85) and provide yet again ALL documentation of your illness for the second decision maker to look at.

The first decision maker at the DWP only gets to see the ESA 85 (ATOS report) and your ESA 50 (application form for ESA) not your notes etc that you have sent.

I was informed by 3 people dealing with my claim at the DWP that at least 70% of decisons made by ATOS in Islington, London, where I live have been overturned either by a second decison maker or an appeal tribunal - you have nothing to lose by appealing.

This process targets the vulnerable, and ATOS seems to be using the tactic of refusing most applications in the hope that people don't appeal !

I'd rather post this anonymously, as I have just received a form from ATOS to go through the whole process again a year later (most claims are every 6 months). Can you believe that I have to photocopy and send all of my supporting evidence again ?...

Anonymous said...

I have a diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and recurring Irritis. I fractured my neck in a car accident and had a closed dynamic brain injury that impaired my memory and concentration. I now have a severe flexion deformity resulting from the accident and an MRI radiology report states that my spine is at risk of fracturing again. I have recurring headaches. I am in constant pain in my neck back hips chest and shoulders. I have difficulty sleeping and suffer extreme fatigue. If my arthritis flares up I can become completely immobile.
I was medically retired from my highly paid job by an Occupational Heath Physician who used the Consultants assessments and my GP's opinion to evidence his decision. This happened after a nine year long concerted attempt to continue in employment with support from Clinical Psychology Physiotherapy Occupational Therapy and the Consultants who dealt with the neck fracture and the head injury.
I received a work pension topped up with Incapacity Benefit.
Prior to my Atos medical I submitted five medical reports to them from the Consultants who treated me together with a letter from my GP.My GP's letter detailed the progressive nature of my condition and outlined why I was unable to sustain employment. The other reports evidenced the head injury treatment of the fracture and a Consultant Radiologist report detailed the results of a MRI scan of my head and spine.
The detailed Rheumatology report evidenced the progressive nature of my condition and concluded that I was not fit enough to continue employment in any capacity- full time or part time.
The Work Assessor who interpreted the Atos medical stated that I was fit for work. I did not receive a single point on their score card.
The work assessors report makes no reference to the fact that I have Ankylosing Spondylitis.It makes no reference to this progressive condition or to the assessments from consultants referring to the long term medical prognosis. It fails to acknowledge a report from a Consultant Rheumatologist evidencing why I am unable to be employed. It fails to refer to the Consultant Radiologists assessment of the risks of a further spine fracture. It omits the views of a Consultant Neurosurgeon that details the problems occurring from a closed dynamic brain injury.
I have intimated to DWP that I will appeal the decision. I am familiar with Tribunals as my occupation involved attending them. I would urge anyone who fails the “political” Atos medical to appeal to attend a tribunal in person and to address the medical member of the tribunal.