bigleyma is thinking…

Archive for August 2011

Podcast: Margaret McCartney GP at Resonance FM.

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On this week’s show, we consulted Glaswegian GP Margaret McCartney about the growing and sustained disquiet around the role of doctors in the assessment of disability benefit. The General Medical Council is concerned enough to be investigating the practice. Dr. McCartney helps us cast some light on Atos, doctors and the work capacity assessment.


Written by bigleyma

August 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm

BBC Report (2007) on Unum’s influence on UK Government.

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The word is that film of this BBC report had been accessible on the net but now has disappeared. Black Triangle have obtained a transcript which they have posted on the above link. Just in case it is not available here is the full transcript:

Hew Edwards, anchor:  A multinational insurance company accused of racketeering and cheating thousands of Americans out of welfare benefits, is giving advice to the British government on welfare reform.  A BBC investigation has found that executives from Unum have held meetings with seniorWhitehall officials to discuss changes to the benefit system.  Mark Daly has this exclusive report:

Mark Daly, presenter:  US-based multi-national insurance giant, Unum, has shown a keen interest inUK welfare reform since the mid 1990s.  This is Unum’s HQ inPortland inMaine.  Unum are the world’s largest disability insurers, with more than 25 million customers in theUS alone.  But in 2002, a series of whistle blowers came forward with damning allegations.  Linda Nee was a claims handler for UnumProvident, as it was called then.

Linda Nee:  I was often placed in the position by a consultant, who was my supervisor, of denying a claim.  Of telling me to deny a claim, or having a manager tell me to remove documentation from a claim so that an attorney would not have an opportunity to see it.

Mark Daly, presenter: It was alleged that UnumProvident cheats tens of thousands of disabled Americans out of their rightful benefit claims.  Many of them came fromCalifornia.  Joan Hangarter had her own business before falling ill.

Joan Hangarter:  An impartial, unanimous jury of 12 people found that Unum had wrongfully terminated my benefits.  They had lied, they had cheated, they had misrepresented the facts.

Mark Daly, presenter:  She was awarded $7.5million in damages but allegations of racketeering persisted.  Then, in 2005, insurance commissioner John Garamendi declared: “UnumProvident is an outlaw company.  It is a company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion.”  In a unique settlement signed by all 50 States, it was fined $23million, ordered to reopen 300,000 denied claims at a cost of half a billion dollars.  (Denied calims still not reinvestigated as of Oct 2010.  MS)

Peter Dewis, Unum Customer Services:  I think the important thing to recognise is that those issues that were found in relation to theUS claims management practices now belong to history.  They were critically reviewed when the regulatory findings came out, a number of very important changes have been made.  In theUK we reviewed all of our claims management practices and found ourselves not to be wanting in relation to anything that theUS regulators were saying.

Mark Daly, presenter:  But, there are still dozens of bad faith cases and allegations outstanding against the company on both sides of theAtlantic.  Despite all of this Unum had senior executives sitting on key government working groups last year, and has provided detailed memorandum on transforming the benefits system.  The government also awarded grants worth £300,000 to Unum’s research centre in Cardiff.

Ian Gibson MP: I think the government should have them in front of them in an open scrutiny process in Parliament, and we should ask them what their game is.  Why it happened in the States first, could not happen here if they have still got the same philosophy.  There is some indication now that they haven’t changed that much.  The leopard hasn’t changed its spots.

Mark Daly, presenter:  The BBC has discovered internal documents revealing that Unum believes it is driving Government policy.  The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment on Unum’s past.  A spokesman said:  “Throughout the process of developing our policies…. Ministers and officials have met and spoken to hundreds of organisations and individuals like Unum to find out what works.”  As Unum attempt to leave its chequered past behind, the debate overUK welfare reform will rage on.

Mark Daly – BBC News


I have to say my favourite part is where Peter Dewis indicates how they investigated themselves and “found ourselves not wanting”.

Written by bigleyma

August 21, 2011 at 6:39 am

Posted in Unum Provident

CarerWatch urge charities to ‘say no’ to ESA

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CarerWatch demand that ESA is changed to show respect to people with disability. CarerWatch ask the government to let people with disability access help back to work through a positive program without threats, sanctions and time limits.


ESA is one enormous experiment in social engineering. The ideas were taken uncritically from the US and imposed with ideological fervour by the Labour government supported by the Conservative Opposition. During the debates in Parliament many politicians  complained that they were being asked to sign a blank cheque. No testing was done before flawed WCA tests followed by a regime of threats and sanctions were visited on millions of people with disability. It’s hardly surprising that Professor Paul Gregg with hindsight is now demanding monitoring of the process to record the damage.

Written by bigleyma

August 20, 2011 at 6:32 am

The Guardian: “Atos doctors could be struck off”

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We’ll see how slowly the wheels of justice grind in these cases. We’ll see how hairs are split and technicalities are put forward etc etc. And also how this is not taken to represent the conduct of Atos HCP’s in general. But the point needs to be made that it is the embedded structure of the WCA that is at fault, the LiMA software, the ‘descriptors’ and the phrases that HCPs are coached to choose from, the ‘guidance’ from the (DWP) ESA regulations that encourage the HCPs to find evidence that will contradict a claimant’s testimony about their illness.

It is the stark ommission of details about a person’s limitations which is the most damning of the WCA system. The Guardian illustrate this very well with an example given in the article:


In another case a claimant with learning difficulties who went for an assessment was found fit for work because he had found his way to the assessment centre on his own.When asked about this by Citizens Advice, he reluctantly explained that he had got up very early, taken the bus to the town centre, and then kept asking passersby for directions. He couldn’t follow their instructions, so he would show the letter, walk in the direction they pointed, then ask again until he arrived.

This is very much a feature of the reports their HCPs generate. A selection of simplistic statements which carry with them unstated, and therefore unchallengeable, assumptions. The main assumption being that the activity could be/has been  carried out without any consequences for the claimant. Barriers which a claimant may have to struggle valiantly or extremely patiently to overcome, consequences such as fatigue, pain/discomfort, distress are ommitted from the narrative created about their health/fitness by a process which, by design, robs them of any agency in it.

Written by bigleyma

August 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm

The DWP/Atos ‘bounce’

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Just found this entry on GP Margaret McCartney’s blog, where she discusses the difficulty she had getting information from Atos:

I  wanted to know about Atos recruitment, audit and training; they didn’t want to talk.

She compares their uncooperative stance with that of the DWP, who usually respond helpfully to FOI requests…EXCEPT when it comes to material relating to Atos where apparently they were

… not able to answer questions about Atos procedures because Atos is a private contractor.

We are starting to see a huge problem here, as I have experienced the DWP/Atos ‘bounce’ myself. Atos refer you to the DWP, the DWP refer you to Atos. It’s a tangled web, veiling a deceit at the heart of this process. I’m waiting for my FOI requests to be answered, particularly the one regarding the ‘medical research’ they say underpins the WCA. It goes against public interest for such an important justification for this test to be withheld from scrutiny. MPs and the media next if they don’t provide it.

Written by bigleyma

August 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

Atos release ‘doublespeak’ recruitment ad

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“You could make the difference that gives someone on incapacity benefit a brighter future.”

Atos new recruitment drive attempts to portray a caring image to entice health professionals into working for them. The £60,000 a year for doctors, £32,000 for nurses is no mean attraction either. Almost don’t need the spin. Except most health professionals of integrity must find the prospect requires more than a little moral deliberation now that so much about this firm has been made public by those who see themselves as victims of it.

This article in the Daily Record balances Atos’ advert against the actual reality of someone who has been through the WCA.

Maggie Mackay was assessed by Atos as “fit to work” when she was still recovering from chemotherapy.

The 51-year-old, from Glengarnock, Ayrshire, was a furniture restorer before breast cancer stopped her in her tracks.

She had radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery but was then assessed as being to fit to work by Atos and taken off disability benefit.

Maggie, who bravely took part in our Breast Cancer Care Fashion Show last year, has launched an appeal.

She said: “Two weeks ago I had more surgery as my scar was not healing properly. My side effects include fatigue, not being able to sleep, very sore bones and memory loss.

“The young woman didn’t seem interested. I can’t squat because I have two slipped discs.

“But she wrote in her report that I could squat. She made out I was perfectly fit and healthy.

“Everything you say is twisted to make out that you are fit for work. I now have £8 a day to live on.”


Maggie’s story is a depressingly frequent one.

Written by bigleyma

August 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

DWP ‘Death Count’

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List of benefit related suicides, many of them directly connected to the Atos Work Capability Assessment, being at some part of the process between scheduled for assessment to awaiting a tribunal hearing.

Written by bigleyma

August 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm