Who gives Atos?
Well we know this ConDem government doesn’t nor, it seems, does the company, Atos Origin UK, that the ConDems have contracted to assess people applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Derbyshire TUC Unemployed Workers Centres (DUWC) have just published their 2010 Annual Report which includes the following three case studies which seem to gainsay Atos’s protestations that they are not paid by results – getting people off ESA and the benefits budget down. But as the following stories show they get it wrong while causing pain, worry and grief to those they deny ESA.
TUC Unemployed Workers Centres are doing a brilliant job helping the unemployed, low paid and vulnerable workers. To find out more about the work of the centres and how you and your trade union can support or get involved with your local centre go to www.tuc.org.uk/extras/Hands_Up_for_UWCs.pdf
If you have more such Atos stories please send them to me at the TUC marking the envelope ‘Atos Stories’
Here are John Watkins, Gary Hollingworth and Sue Hutchings stories.
John Watkins was working as a lorry driver but developed acute tennis elbow through repetitive driving so that by January 2009 his right arm movement was severely restricted. As a result he had to stop work because he could no longer drive. John is right handed and after an operation in April 2009 had his whole right arm from his shoulder to his fingers put in a cast. John was called to an assessment where the medical found him fit for work. He did not score any points (a person needs 15 points to be judged incapable of work). John’s consultant had advised him not to use his arm, yet the Atos Origin Ltd medical said he was capable of using both arms to lift bulky objects. At a tribunal the decision was overturned and it was accepted that John could not lift using both arms or use a pen effectively. He was then entitled to the extra £25.50 per week, which was then backdated. John will need further surgery in December. He is incensed at his treatment and says: “I encourage people not to be put off pursuing their claim. They should seek advice and appeal if they feel that they have been unjustly treated, as I undoubtedly was.
Sue Hutchings: Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2009. She had an operation to remove the lump on 14 August but unfortunately the surgery scar became infected. At a follow up appointment, Sue was told the cancer had spread beyond the original excision and she would have to have more tissue taken. She was prescribed antibiotics for the infection through to the end of September. During this time, she received and completed her ESA50 form, stating that she had breast cancer and was undergoing surgical treatment. On 7 October she had a pre-op appointment and further surgery was booked for the following week. Sue had her ESA medical with Atos Origin Ltd on 8 October and told them she was still recovering from surgery and had further surgery booked for 12 October. Sue’s GP had provided her with a sick note and all the supporting medical evidence requested by the DWP. Sue offered to show this medical evidence and her scar, but the Atos Origin Ltd nurse refused to look. Sue had her surgery and thought everything had gone well. At a follow up appointment on 4 November with her consultant Sue was told the cancer had spread again and she would need a full mastectomy. Despite this, upon receiving the report back from Atos Origin Ltd the DWP decision maker decided that Sue “could not be treated as having limited capability for work”. Sue received her ‘0 points’ letter on 12 November 2009. She appealed and a revision of the decision was carried out. She won on the grounds that exceptional circumstances regulations should have been applied. Sue is now in remission.
Garry Hollingworth of Langwith worked for the Royal Mail as a postman. He was off work for ten months with a serious heart condition. Royal Mail employed Atos to carry out a medical assessment on Garry. They concluded that ‘His mobility is restricted up to a few minutes by breathlessness, angina and leg pains’. They went on to say ‘Mr Hollingworth remains unfit for work in any capacity and I doubt he will be able to work again. There is no foreseeable return date and no adjustments that would facilitate his return at this stage’.
The Atos report stated that not only is he permanently incapable of carrying out the duties of his present post but also working for any other employer. They concluded that he would meet the criteria for medical retirement.
Weeks later, Mr Hollingworth had to attend a Work Capability Assessment, a requirement when claiming the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have a multi million pound contract with Atos Origin to carry out work capability assessments with those claiming ESA.
Imagine Garry’s surprise when he was sent a letter by Atos telling him he did not have a limited capability for work. He had received 0 points (15 are required to claim the benefit) which means he would have to claim Job seeker’s allowance which is £65.45 as opposed to £96.85 on ESA. Mr Hollingworth appealed the decision and was then given 6 points. The Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres (DUWCs) helped him put in a new claim as his condition had worsened. Garry has had a fresh medical via Atos and has now been given 9 points. He will appeal the decision again.
The DUWCs have two more Royal Mail workers and one NHS employee who have all faced medical retirement at the hands of Atos only to be given 0 points when trying to claim the benefit to which they are entitled. One of these workers is still awaiting her appeal.