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Archive for the ‘My WCA Experience’ Category

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.

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The law as it applies to common folk

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I am intending to include an account of my (failed) tribunal eventually, which will be extensive. Currently I am waiting for the Statement of Reasons which will explain why my appeal was ‘disallowed’ as they put it. In fact that was all they put. And is why I am making this post and why it is entitled such.

My hearing was on 13th September, and I received the judgement by post the day after, the clerk having indicated that this would probably be the case.  I had spent months acquiring research evidence about my condition (from peer-reviewed medical journals), had obtained a letter of support from my GP and also included advice from authoritative sources including the DWP itself, and Atos Healthcare’s own Evidence Based material.  Alongside this I submitted an extensive, detailed account/criticism of the HCP’s report pointing out its poor quality, the errors and the instance of the HCP’s blatant misuse of my statement which misled the Decision Maker. I had expected that the panel would consider all that I had presented to them in an impartial and objective way, and fairly. We are all equal in the eyes of the law, they say, so expectations would be that my evidence would be weighed thoughtfully against that provided by the DWP, and a well reasoned  judgement would ensue.

To receive the tribunal’s verdict and find it contained simply a statement that my appeal had been disallowed, with no further exposition, was to experience myself as someone who is therefore insignificant in the eyes of the law. The hidden message behind this lack of entitlement to an explanation is that I am simply not important enough for them to need to justify  their conclusion. This troubles me.

I wrote asking for a Statement of Reasons the next day, which apparently was received by the clerk and forwarded to the tribunal judge on 16th September. In my innocence of the process I expected that it would simply be a matter of printing me off a copy of this document, which I assumed already existed. As the appeal constituted a legal procedure I imagined that records of judgements would be filed with reasons attached as a matter of course.

It seemed to be taking longer than expected, and it was unclear whether a Record of Proceedings was automatically included, so I wrote again requesting this and impulsively queried whether a Statement of Reasons exists outside of an appellants request for one. I truly did not expect to hear back: “You suppose correctly that a statement is only prepared when requested.”  If the panel only produce this retrospectively what form did their judgement take materially at the time, and how long did they deliberate over it, the two of them?

We common folk who bring these cases to them, how readily do we accept what seems to be a final word on the situation from these two authorities, the medical and the legal, united in judgement against us? Especially when it comes in the form of ‘the law says no and we don’t have to tell you why’.

This effect is further compounded by the fact that if you do not feel that the tribunal have awarded a fair judgement you need to ask permission of the judge to be able to take it further. Oh, and the extension of benefit entitlement you had while appealing is removed. So… quite interesting the way law works for us commoners isn’t it?

 

Written by bigleyma

September 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm

The Work Capability Assessment: A Personal Account

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The following is an account of part of my experience of the WCA which highlights the gap between reality and the report that was produced by Atos’ HCP. I wrote it in response to reading others’ stories at the victimsofatoscorruption blog’s  register of shame: A### the Truth. I must add that I do not publish this lightly, but in order to add to the evidence against this morally repulsive process. I know that it has made me feel better to have read other’s stories.

 

When I had my WCA I was less than three months out of hospital, and still getting accustomed to the change in my health after two emergency hospitalisations within a month. I had a diagnosis of COPD:Emphysema. The sudden termination of ESA came as a shock and I did not think it was a fair decision, so I appealed. When the copy of the report came I gave it a quick glance, felt ashamed (as I think you are meant to) that I had been judged fit when I claimed not to be, and put it aside. The appeal date was estimated so many months away that I decided to face it later.

Ever since, I have been reading about and discussing the WCA, and from time to time considering how to argue the case for my ill health. I started to do some medical research, as I have academic access at the moment, about the work I had done and its effects on the respiratory system, also authoritative opinion on certain environments and other factors that should be avoided if my condition is not to worsen.

It was only recently in anticipation of my appeal, whose date had been brought closer, that I had the nerve to analyse the HCP‘s report. I have never seen such poor quality work from a supposed ‘professional’ (whom Atos claim has received specialist training in ‘disability analysis’ which makes their opinion superior to that of a GP or consultant). Why I feared that I would be unable to contest it I don’t know. Just that – Fear. It was conducted by a Nurse Maureen Bluer, who I remember being so laid back as to have almost been asleep. But at the time I felt quite unwell, and was not really sharp about things. It was just another ordeal. She was lax, though, and very, very disinterested. It was a strange experience in that respect. She never smiled once, nor I think did she ever really look directly at me. (Guilt, I expect). Which makes it all the more odd that she claimed I was “not breathless on examination”. In fact she uses the word “examination” at least twice without having actually done anything that could be regarded as such.

Her demeanour, however, explains the unseemly number of inconsistencies, discrepancies, misrepresentations, irrelevancies and omissions the ‘report’ contains. Though English, her writing was of a poor standard: Sentences had no punctuation, were badly worded or just plain sloppy. Example 1: “The client is not on ant medication and has not seen a mental health professional” (Ant medication, I should hope not!) Example 2: “The client was unable to breath properly.”

I was further exasperated by: “Lives alone” followed immediately by “Lives with their adult son and daughter”. A fair portion of the ‘report’ was composed of sentences which had no relevance to my condition and I don’t know why she put them, except in an attempt to use anything which discredited my claim to be ill.

Abusively, she had taken a statement I made out of its context, and used it against me: I had explained that a significant bereavement had added to the depression and anxiety that accompanied my illness. (A common co-morbidity to COPD, I have since learned). Six months BEFORE becoming ill I had graduated from university. It had been an awful time as I had also been caring for my cancer stricken brother and he died the month before I graduated. I confided this to her in discussion of my mental health, to indicate some of the source of my anxiety and depression. What she did was to put: “The client states that she has been doing a social science degree she finished this just after her brother died”. So she had removed it from the timescale and used it as evidence of my mental health NOW. The worst thing about that was that it was picked up by the Decision Maker who put, under ‘Coping with Social Situations’: “Has been doing a social science degree. Coped well at interview”.

Regarding the ‘coping well’ I had in fact broken down and spent the last half of the WCA in tears due to talking about my brother. She airbrushed this out of her report stating that I “Behaved normally”. Well I suppose it is ‘normal’ to break down when you’re depressed and anxious and talking about the most traumatic period in your life!

As I have put in my appeal, of even more concern is that the Decision Maker uncritically accepted this poor quality document, without questioning any aspect of it. Worse still, on initiating my appeal, someone on behalf of The Secretary of State had then reviewed *that* and found nothing wrong with it at all.


Written by bigleyma

September 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm