Employment Minister Mark Hoban: His attempt to cover up the failings of the ESA Work Capability Assessment, and his nepotistic use of a former employer to rubber-stamp the cosmetic changes, bring all politics and politicians into disrepute.
Who do you believe about the Work Capability Assessment?
Not the government, obviously.
You may have missed this – because it hasn’t been reported widely in the mass media – but a quiet row has been running for several months, concerning the collection and use of medical evidence to support applications for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit people taking the WCA have applied to receive.
The government – whose spokesman appears to be Employment Minister Mark Hoban rather than Esther McVey, the Minister who is actually responsible for Disabled People – insists that decisions are made after consideration of all medical evidence supplied by claimants, and that they can provide further evidence during the reconsideration process or appeals.
But there is a mountain of evidence that this is a load of bunkum.
Back in 2010, an ex-military claimant, ‘Mrs S’ wrote a damning report on the service at the time. It stated: “This dangerous DWP contract offers the medical opinion of the Atos Healthcare Disability Analyst as a PRIORITY, which the DWP Decision Makers accept verbatim, so all additional specialist medical opinion of consultants, offered by the patient/claimant, is totally overlooked. Consequently, desperately ill people are now being declared fit for work because they are physically capable of collecting a pen from the floor. Patients, welfare advisors and MPs all presume that specialist medical opinion by a consultant will be accepted because they are unfamiliar with the details of the contract.
“The contract requires specialist medical opinion for several conditions… This is routinely ignored by Atos Healthcare with devastating consequences, whilst the UK government offer total support for this private company.
“Atos Healthcare doctors do not have access to a patient’s detailed medical history at the interview with the patient, as confirmed by Atos Healthcare, so one needs to question why so much detailed medical evidence is requested, which will be totally ignored?
“Atos Healthcare is totally unaccountable for all medical examinations. All usual patient safety networks in place for NHS and private healthcare do not apply and, according to the GMC and the Healthcare Commission, Atos Healthcare, as a company, ‘…have total immunity from all medical regulation.’
“There is no clinical supervision whatsoever.”
Get the picture? This situation has not changed in three years, despite the claims of Mr Hoban that he is “committed to ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is as fair and accurate as possible”.
On Tuesday (August 13), New Statesman published details of several Atos claimants with mental health problems who – surprise, surprise – have been let down by the system.
One of these, who had previously attempted suicide, was driven to a further attempt to take her own life after receiving a string of 18 letters from a Work Programme Provider, all sent after it was advised to leave her alone for the good of her health.
“The DWP said it would not investigate the matter because [the Work Programme Provider] has its own internal complaints procedure,” the article stated, before going on to report on how that worked.
The company refuted the allegation and went on to say that it “takes its responsibilities to its customers and staff seriously. We have robust policies on safeguarding and data protection in place to ensure their privacy and safety is always maintained. With this in mind, it would be inappropriate for [us] to comment on individual any cases”.
It is clear that there is a culture of unaccountability running right through this system; the only people who bear the consequences of Work Capability assessors’ actions are the claimants themselves.
Perhaps that is why so many are dying that the DWP is now afraid to publish mortality figures for people going through the process. The suicidal person mentioned in the Statesman article would have been one more to add to the multitude, if they had succeeded in taking their own life.
This is what your votes support – a state-sponsored drive for sick or disabled people to kill themselves, rather than continue to be a burden on a Conservative-led government. Compassionate Conservatism – and this is at its most compassionate.
Let’s add in a few details. We know that the government recently lost a court battle in which it claimed that the current process was fair to people with mental health conditions. The Upper Tribunal disagreed and now the DWP is appealing against that decision – because ministers don’t want their underlings to have to consider medical information on anyone that hasn’t been gathered in the biased way ensured by the Atos Healthcare training system.
“We already request claimants supply any evidence they feel will be relevant to the assessment in the ESA50 questionnaire,” the department said in an email quoted by the Statesman.
But we already know from ‘Mrs S’ that this information is “totally overlooked”. It was in 2010 and we have no reason to believe the current situation is any different, judging from the treatment of claimants.
Now it seems claimants are finding it harder to get the expert medical evidence they need, because GPs are either refusing to hand it over, or are charging more money for it than claimants receive for their personal survival.
In southeast Wales, Bro Taf Local Medical Committee has come under fire for ordering GPs to stop providing support information to disability benefit claimants who were appealing against WCA decisions. The LMC has said its problem is not with the provision of evidence itself, but with the “increasing number of appeals [which] has resulted in more GP appointments being taken up to deal with such requests”.
Hoban said last month that he was bringing in “additional providers” to carry out assessments from summer 2014 and had already directed Atos to improve the quality of its written reports following assessments.
This will do nothing to improve matters, if the contract and the training given to the new providers is the same as that given to Atos.
And he has engaged a company to “provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes”. This company is PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr Hoban’s former employer. The connection with the Minister implies an inappropriate relationship from the get-go.
Put it all together and you have an attempt to carry out business as usual, under the veil of a ham-fisted cover-up involving friends of the Minister. Anyone bothering to check the facts will see it as further evidence of the corruption that is rotting the institutions of British government with staggering rapidity under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration.
But there is a worse effect, which has a bearing on all politicians: Even those who accept such announcements at face value will consider this to be a failure by government. “They can’t get anything right” will be the chorus from the Great Uninterested – and the continuing furore as mistakes – and deaths – continue to take place will only reinforce the view that we should not give any politicians the time of day.
They would kill us all and call it “help”.