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Archive for the ‘Criticisms’ Category

MIND film captures misery of WCA for those struggling with Mental Health

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Tyneside MIND have produced this compelling account of what it’s like for those suffering mental health issues to have to undergo the unforgiving, indifferent and humiliating ordeal that is the DWP’s Work Capability Assessment. For those who have been through that experience or who are currently experiencing that kind of vulnerability, viewing may not be advisable, but it is very important that material like this is disseminated widely to counter the government’s unsupportable claims of legitimacy for their WCA process.

MIND’s Campaign page associated with this film, where you can sign to hear about this and other campaigns can be found here.

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Atos: “Leave Your Clinical Skills, (and Your Principles) at the Door”

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Deputy Medical Director of Sally’s Atos Centre:

 “You’d better throw your principles out the window otherwise you won’t be able to work here.”

 

 My previous post outlined my conclusion that Atos acts as a ‘shield’ for the government, and that by having them as a ‘middle man’ between claimants and the DWP facilitates the deflection of criticism that should rightly be aimed at warped government policies. In this recording for LBC Radio Sally, a former Atos employee, describes her experience with that ‘horrendous organisation’, which she alleges cares as little for its employees as it does the vulnerable people pushed through its WCA process.

Clinical skills not required

This timely appearance of a radio interview with ex-Atos nurse ‘Sally’ goes a long way towards validating my assertion. Sally is yet another ‘whistleblower’ emerging from this firm, and her testimony is even more damning of the bad practice that is rife within, indeed is deliberately built into, their process. It is one she describes as being factory-like, with

“…no regard for your clinical skills…and most of the people who go there haven’t got any because they’ve been out of practice for so long.”

For example most GPs occupied in an Atos role, she asserts, are “…retired or semi-retired, nearing their time…”. Considering the high remuneration for doctors taking up these positions its not unreasonable to suppose that many facing retirement might see it as somewhat of a ‘pension booster’.

 Aside from GPs she criticises the substandard quality of many of the (highly paid) doctors who tend in one way or another to be among the less competent, or less experienced, of medical professionals. This, she says, is because the majority (estimated by her as between 90-95%) are foreign nationals unable to secure NHS employment, or who have failed exams that might qualify them to work legitimately in our healthcare system.

Fiddling the data

Sally also confirms previous allegations about how ratios are set, the ‘targets’ that pre-determine how many claimants should go into each group, so that considerable file ‘juggling’ must be done to make sure those targets are kept to. That revelation met with a gasp of shock by the interviewer, she goes on to say “If you didn’t get those figures right, within your file, then there was repercussions on you…”, and likely ‘disciplinary’ action taken. Its glaringly obvious to anyone that if you’re working to targets you’re not authentically assessing the patient, you’re focusing instead on how people’s data can be manipulated to fit the rigid categories set for you. If you’re led by that then you can’t possibly be led by the evidence in front of you, the claimant’s unique health circumstances.

 The part most relevant to my post, however, is when she questions why the DWP does not employ the doctors and nurses directly, a common sense idea, which, considering the huge profits creamed off by Atos, would be more economically sound.

I think the answer to that is now plainly clear.

It is clear too, that those medical professionals employed by Atos are not there for utilisation of their medical skills, but merely to lend an aura of respectability to a process that has no medical legitimacy, nor even medical relevance, whatsoever.

Written by bigleyma

July 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

ATOS and the DWP – A Performance With Smoke and Mirrors

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Just a Few Bad Apples Reports

The government has been forced by public opinion, alongside a veritable tipping point of overturned decisions, to turn a critical eye on their WCA administrator, Atos. They’ve announced that Atos must produce a performance improvement plan’ since too many of their HCP’s reports are below desired standard. Not, they quickly emphasise, that they are ‘wrong’, simply that they are not putting forward their case clearly enough. The ‘reasoning‘ underpinning a portion of ‘recommendations’ lacks ‘detail’, it seems. No mention of outright misrepresentation, or glaring errors, just the ‘quality’ of report-writing that is not robust enough to underpin the concluding recommendation (upon which DWP officers make their decisions).

Since all emphasis is on substandard ‘report writing’, with no suggestion that decisions derived from them were incorrectly made, I can only interpret this move as an attempt to make those reports ‘foolproof’ against tribunal scrutiny rather than to have them reflect more honestly the applicant’s authentic circumstances with regard to their impairments.

Progress?

Many among the disabled activists and those campaigning on their behalf see this news as a positive development. And it certainly is ‘something’, rather than ‘nothing’. As others have pointed out it is pathetically little, and is nothing like the wholesale denouncement that most would wish for. Sadly, even this last perception is wide of base when it comes to the WCA, and its construction and delivery.

In this situation the position that Atos hold in the system of administration of welfare to the sick and disabled is akin more to ‘useful corporate idiot’ and proof of this is available for anyone to see in the government’s own ESA Regulations.

The Convenient Shield of Atos

Atos is the government’s shield in the symbiotic relationship between them and the DWP. From this relationship Atos draws status, legitimacy and above all massive profits. In this way it is similar to the companies who administer the Work Programme, which itself has been proven to do little more than line private pockets with massive amounts of public money (its actual results assessed as “worse than doing nothing”).

Sadly Atos’ activity, by contrast, definitely does more than nothing. It helps to cast people, whose only offence is to be ill, off health related benefits and either into destitution, or to join the competitive arena of seeking work against the able-bodied and healthy. The latter will, after a year, proceed onto the afore-mentioned, and certified useless, Work Programme, where they are likely to be ‘parked’ in favour of those it is more easy to find work for.

Atos Just Make the I.T., That’s All

What the government get in return from Atos, which is a ‘black box’ in itself, since scrutiny is inhibited by ‘commercial confidentiality’, is a defensive buffer against criticism of their policies. Atos are, in the final analysis, only the administrators of the government’s instrument. The government, through their ESA Regulations, say “This is how you assess people”, “These are the criteria to be used”. The computer driven LIMA system is simply the interface through which the government’s set criteria is ‘operationalised’, made digital. The WCA, as delivered, is an IT construct that is merely the government’s word made technological flesh, the digitalised manifestation of DWP-designed instructions. Because: Atos is an IT company. That’s what they do. They apply their undoubted expertise and experience to produce computerised IT ‘solutions’ to meet real world criteria. They don’t invent the criteria themselves, its provided to them, in this case by the UK government’s DWP.

The DWP Created the WCA

So what’s happening now? Its taken deaths, suicides in increasing numbers, at least two solid years of intensified activity by mainly sick people, who are derided as ‘extremists’ for their efforts, to arrive at this point. This point at which the evidence is so damning, so incriminating, that the facade of legitimacy of the WCA can no longer stand. The outrage that Atos draws from a sizeable portion of the public has become publically visible. But the shield which is Atos, which protects the government, which deflects from government criticism of their instrument, their descriptors, their model of sickness/disability, their deliberately designed construction of what they  will acknowledge as a sick or disabled person in need of help, still stands.

The Slickness of the Hand Deceives the Eye

Direct all your ire at Atos, they say, have said, these past years. It is the administration which is flawed, not the foundation, they claim. But that is not the case. In truth Atos are simply IT specialists who have accurately interpreted their government bosses’ instructions and are now ‘taking one for the team’. And its not a particularly harsh ‘one’ at that; some reports are not up to scratch, its a ‘quality control’ issue, bring in more ‘experts’, retrain the assessors. What a wonderful misdirection, a stage magician’s sleight of hand using smoke and mirrors. Atos is as insubstantial in the WCA process as smoke. The cards are, and have always been, the government’s own, designed, printed and laminated by them in the dark, shadowy recesses offstage. Their construction of the WCA (with the help of dispreputable insurance company, UNUM) will never be seen as long as a company like Atos is available to take the flak. And if Atos are ‘phased out’, as it seems is being prepared, the new Atos will then be the expediter of the government’s hidden programme. A programme that has a compound objective:

  • To choke off the outflow of public money to the sick and disabled, and, as a direct consequence, deter people from perceiving themselves as ill, worthy of support, and therefore inhibiting their take-up of entitled benefits. But possibly incentivising them to take up private insurance instead. (See Unum below)

  • To pull away the safety net of social security, without disturbing the inflow into government coffers of National Insurance contributions. (Another magician’s trick, coincidentally UNUM’s choice of visual metaphor for their ‘Backup Plan‘ tv ads -‘Whip away the tablecloth, but leave the crockery undisturbed’)

  • To change the very definition of sickness/disability itself, limiting qualification for benefits to only the most, and I mean most, seriously impaired – the paraplegic, those with only six months to live (I struggle to find any other categories deemed worthy, at this point).

And meanwhile, even more public money is directed into corporate coffers, through the commissioning of ‘consultants’ Price-Waterhouse-Coopers, brought in to ‘provide independent advice’ on this purported ‘quality-assurance’ issue.

Fortifying the Bad Decisions

Does anyone really think this government agenda, this pogrom programme is going to be affected in any way by cleaning up a few reports, improving grammatical and ‘reasoning’ skills? Its more akin in actuality to a further sharpening of the blade that is already being used to cull the sick. This is what Grayling meant when he resolved to address the problem of so many overturned decisions at tribunal. Its not about getting the decisions right at assessment stage, as any reasonable person would conclude. Its about making the bad decisions stick.

Atos are the necessary blind that disguises government intent. The sad thing is that all that is required is to draw back that blind and the intent is there for all to see, in the government’s own ESA Regulations. “No need for bending, kneeling in the modern workplace”. I’ll leave you to contemplate that absolute gem of contorted, deluded thinking by your government, and consider whether you think it meets the rigours of your own experienced reality.

Written by bigleyma

July 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Worsening of Mental Health, Self Harm and Suicides Directly Attributable to WCA

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Investigative news outfit Exaro have revealed that a recent survey commissioned by mental health charity ‘Rethink Mental Illness demonstrates the devastating effect that the, now notorious, Work Capability Assessment is having on the sick and disabled across the country. Of a thousand GPs surveyed it was reported that 6% had disabled patients who had either attempted, or actually committed, suicide due to the distress the process is causing. One in five (21%) revealed that they had patients who have considered suicide in connection with the WCA, either as a result of undergoing it, or fear of having to. 14% of GPs also confirmed self harming behaviour among patients forced to undergo the Atos administered test.

“These shocking statistics show that the work-capability assessment is pushing some of the most unwell and vulnerable people in our society to the edge.” – Paul Jenkins, chief executive, Rethink Mental Health.

Further, Rethink’s survey indicates that not only is the WCA exacerbating  ill-heath for those with existing mental health problems, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but

More than eight out of ten GPs say they have patients who have developed mental health problems due to [the] controversial benefits test” [italics added]

Only ‘Anecdotal’  

an·ec·do·tal [an-ik-doht-l, an-ik-doht-l]
adjective
based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation”

Attempts to undermine the vast amounts of incriminating evidence discrediting the WCA include comments such as this by Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone reported in the Daily Record:

“But many of the stories we have heard are anecdotal. It is difficult to find a statistical or empirical set of figures to tell us exactly what these problems are.”

Is this survey ‘statistical’ and ’empirical’ enough for those such as Mr Johnstone? Or will they find some other means of dismissing the facts? There is material which has been expressly designed for just that purpose, including the means by which GPs and other doctors’ authority can be undermined or dismissed. It can be found among the output from proponents of the BioPsychoSocial model of illness, and adherents to the ‘Wessely’ psychogenic doctrine.

A Clarification About ‘Work’

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Someone commented on my last post regarding what they perceive to be my encouragement of a negative perspective to work for the sick and disabled, which they evidently feel could deter others from attempting to work, something which has been beneficial for them personally. Since comments are not viewable unless you click on them on here, I am repeating my response to them .

My previous post was not denying that work plays an important part in our lives, or that it can make a valuable contribution to our self esteem. In a broad sense, that is, as in my long working history I have experienced both sides of that coin. Some jobs actively undermine self worth and health, but some as you say challenge us in positive ways and help us develop both socially and personally, developing relationships and skills that enhance our lives. There is probably nothing better for our self esteem than to experience ourselves as useful, purposeful beings, in an environment where our efforts are valued and rewarded appropriately. The potential beneficial effects of work I expect to be taken as a ‘given’ in my writing about this subject. But that piece is not about whether or not work is good for us.

It is about the cynical misappropriation of that idea to quite different ends than those which are claimed by Professor Aylward and his colleagues, and subsequently our government. There is a great deal more history to this situation than I have been able to cover in the two pieces I have written on the subject.

I am merely trying to highlight certain important factors that have played a part in a process which, if you have read any of my other posts, is having  a devastating effect on sick and disabled people in this country. The horrifying cases continue to mount daily. In a sense my piece is not even about that. It is a direct challenge to Professor Aylward’s claim to have no involvement in this. I hope you would see that his denial of his involvement and attempt to distance himself from the huge part he has played in it is convincing proof of how toxic these ‘reforms’, in particular the Work Capability Assessment, are.

That the most influential person, the one who has been singularly instrumental in propagating the ideas (on a worldwide scale) which they have been constructed upon, attempts to extricate himself, that surely is validation enough. The WCA is a fraud. Even the most superficial investigation such as mine exposes its bias, and its hidden agenda. The effects, which should be the final determiner of whether a process is successful in its (asserted beneficial) aims, prove that conclusively. People are dying after being found fit, others are being driven to suicide, certainly many more are living in fear and desperation. This is not sensationalising the situation it is the plain truth.

I am glad that you have not suffered too much from your WCA experience, and have managed to obtain work which has restored your self esteem. That can not be said to be generally true I’m afraid. That a few may escape the ill effects can in no way justify the many who are being brutalised by this process.

Purple Persuasion’s Blog: “And The Score From Glasgow is..Nil Points”.

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I can’t say I ever intended my blog to contain example after example of outrageous WCA ‘decisions’, or if so I intended to do it in a much more scholarly way, collect and collate data and so on, within its own secton of the site. I can’t seem to muster that degree of discipline of late. I would attribute that to my mental health issues, except that according to Atos Healthcare I don’t have any.

So, occasionally I do post some of the worst stories that I come across, courtesy of activists who are blogging and tweeting more conscientously on this very aspect, and of course the items that by their extreme nature actually make it into, if not mainstream news, the regional variety which serves that particular victim’s locality.

This latest is Ms W’s personal account, and I’m posting it because I relate strongly to her experience which seems to typify the Atos approach to mental health assessment. I say that because not only is this account similar to my own, but to many others that I have seen online. Assuming that we were not all assessed by the same aberrant ‘HCP’ it can only be concluded that this is their preferred protocol for that area of health.

One definitive aspect of this shared experience, which it is not easy to admit to in our stiff-upper-lipped society is of having ‘broken down’ and wept at the assessment, but then to have been supposedly observed to have, in my case, “Coped well at interview”, despite strong evidence to the contrary. That simple untruth, together with a recorded absence of any cringemakingly described and potentially sectionable behaviour such as “sweating, trembling or rocking backwards and forwards” are apparently the only things needed to disqualify a claimant in that area.

I’m not much given to the humiliating experience of public weeping, though the way in which I was interrogated at my subsequent tribunal stimulated much the same result, which, too, was similarly dismissed as irrelevant to my claim to mental ill-health. They must have just had me pegged as an unecessary ‘weeper’, though I tend to think of myself as much more of a survivor, and somewhat of a warrior, when I am in good health. Personal history has no place in the WCA.

But, this is not about me. This is Ms W’s account of receiving the regulation ‘Nil points’ following her assessment by Atos despite suffering what appears to be quite severe Bipolar Disorder. Well that’s what we lay(wo)men might conclude. The ‘disability experts’ at Atos certainly have a, shall we say, less conventional,  perspective on what makes a person ‘fit for work’.

An extract from Ms W’s account:

The Decision Maker notes my ESA50 explanation that I am not always aware of everyday hazards due to my sedating medication, that when I am manic I can do things without thinking, and that when I am depressed I can barely get out of bed. However, because I said at WCA that I was able to wash and dress unaided that week, had my own bank account and could meet a friend for coffee most weeks, and because in the HCP’s opinion my mental state examination “was within normal limits”, I was given nil points. What I find particularly disturbing is that I sobbed throughout most of the assessment, and was visibly anxious and distressed. This is evidently what Atos considers being in a “normal” mental state.

Evidently, Ms W, evidently.

Nil Points…

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Nil Points… The WCA – Like a perverted Eurovison Song Contest, only no-one’s singing and dancing… mainly they’re being driven into destitution, or suicide, or simply dying while being ‘found’ fit.

The BBC seem to be catching up a bit of late, hopefully not too late, although it certainly is for a growing number of victims of Atos. There can no longer be any doubt that many have been driven to suicide by this government’s ‘welfare reforms’ in the area of health-related benefits. A recent news item on the BBC site is yet another in a never-ending torrent of evidence that the WCA is not only ‘not fit for purpose’ but is clearly a bureaucratic instrument designed to deny people their legitimate benefits. I no longer believe its simply about saving money. I believe its an ideological assault on the vulnerable, which has much in common with that of a more notorious historical regime. The parallels are striking, couched though they might be in a discourse more acceptable to modern consciences. This time instead of smearing all sick and disabled people, and being encouraged to regard them as ‘useless eaters’, we are invited to discriminate between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ sick and disabled. Once you establish that premise and install a bureaucratic system which finds the majority ‘underserving’, and then widely publish these distorted results in the mainstream press, you have paved the way for the wholescale demonisation of a community. Because ‘the public’ respond to messages, the same now as they did historically. And the overriding message for them has been that you can’t trust this sector of the population. The seeds of doubt have been sown in the minds of the ‘advantaged’, those who have no struggle with impairments in carrying out their daily lives. To the abject shame of our society the politics of resentment has been stirred up and aimed squarely at the vulnerable.

There is much denial that this is an offensive against the sick and disabled, with the utilisation of concepts created by disabled campaigners themselves, originally for the purpose of  overturning negative social preconceptions.  Now those concepts are being used against them in true Orwellian fashion, almost as if the government are saying “Well you claimed you could contribute to society, you claimed you could work, now get off your arses and do so, because we are not going to support you anymore”.  Or as Grayling prefers to spin it “identify people who can do more with their lives and give them the help they need to find their way back to work”, something that counter-intuitively will be facilitated by giving them less money rather than more, apparently.

More realistically, as disabled journalist Mark Sparrow put it earlier this year, these ‘reforms’ have compounded the disadvantage, as he writes: “Chris Grayling you’ve made me financially, as well as physically disabled”

To return to the most recently exposed victim of this system, Cecilia Burns received ‘Nil points’ at her WCA, despite the fact that she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The government accordingly reduced her benefit by £30 per week. After fighting against the decision her ESA was reinstated shortly before her death. So this woman who had been enduring cancer, and enduring the side effects of treatment for it, was made to do so with less money, and had to spend the last months of her life in a pointless struggle to regain what she had been entitled to all along. Nil points to you Mr Grayling, and your immoral system, nil points.