(Headline) ATOS Healthcare in Britain a is a shameful scandal
overlooked in France.
The British Govt, keen to make small savings here and there in the
middle of their economic crisis has a range of ways of going about it.
One of the most scandalous is probably the one Atos won the contract
for from the Department of Work and Pensions. Atos has developed a
system to flush out fraudsters and those deemed "fit for work",
basically an electronic form used to evaluate the disabled, terminally
ill cancer patients, people injured in the workplace etc. If they do
not meet the criteria or if they don't turn up for he interview: their
benefits are stopped.
The reason this system is scandalous is because people, even those
with profound disabilities, can under it be considered fit for work;
also mental illnesses are not properly taken into account.
Campaign groups for people with disabilities are outraged to see Atos
sponsoring the Paralympic Games and are demanding a boycott.
According to the Daily Mail, there have been 103 suicides related to
the new test since its implementation. (1)
Atos Healthcare is a division of Atos Consulting operating in the
health sector in the UK where it employs over 3,000 people. Its
largest contract is with the DWP under which it conducts assessments
of people receiving disability benefits.
The assessment test used is very controversial. It has been criticised
in the UK by MPs, the judiciary and disability rights groups including
Citizens Advice Bureaux. (2) These groups have found many examples of
terminally ill and severely disabled people deemed fit for work and
ineligible for benefits as a result of a computer-based evaluation
carried out by Atos Healthcare, which is paid £100 million per year by
the government to administer the tests. Charities have concluded that
the system is not fit for purpose and remain concerned about its
reliability, despite the government's commitment to improve it. (3)
The competence of Atos and its employees has been called into question
by health professionals for setting up its automated medical
examination system known as "LIMA". These examinations are widely
criticized by those who are subject to the evaluation. (4)
The system is automated with a number of yes / no answers, which don't
allow those administering them to take into account
progressive/degenerative diseases, mental illness etc.., But the
system also evaluates people's functional capacity based on unfair
For example, one question is: do you watch "Eastenders" and
"Coronation Street"? (Two very popular television series in Britain).
A 'yes' answer, as far as the software is concerned means that the
person is able to remain seated for 30 minutes, even if the person in
question actually watches the programme lying down.
There are multiple errors in the records, some very wide of the mark.
The system refuses to take account of other medical records /
documents, including those from specialists.
20 out of 55 Atos examination centres have no disabled access, and
some are more than 5 - 15 minutes from the nearest station.
A significant number of disabled or sick people, who were previously
receiving welfare benefits, are now considered employable or able to
participate in a work related activity programme. What this also means
is the end of their entitlement.
If they do not attend a mandatory job/work readiness interview (even
if they are disabled and the obstacles to their attendance make this
is impossible) their unemployment benefits are stopped. (5)
The qualifications & competence of the assessors are questionable;
merely 17 hours of training for nurses, a few days for doctors, and
attractive salaries: £ 32,000 for nurses for a job from 9 to 5 hours,
no weekend work etc.. (6)
The type of people considered employable under the assessment includes
terminally ill cancer patients, people suffering from Parkinson's
disease, and chronic and debilitating illnesses for which there is no
hope of improvement, but for which there will every year be a further
mandatory review. The list is endless.
The Guardian newspaper in an article in March 19 (8) quotes Peter, a
computer analyst officially registered blind in 2009 who was denied
his entitlement and obliged to look for work. (11)
Atos is expected to make recommendations that are reviewed by a panel
that makes the final decision. This panel is made up of 'JCP
decision-makers', the staff of Job Centre Plus, a glorified ANPE
[National Employment Agency]. There do not appear to be any panel
members from the medical profession.
99.78% of Atos's recommendations are accepted by the panel, at the
expense of any recommendations of GPs and specialists who have know
their patients for years. (10)
There have been many demonstrations by pressure groups and activists
since the scandal erupted across the Channel. So much so that we are
surprised it is unknown in France. Protesters brandished banners that
read "Atos doesn't give a toss" and "Atos kills". The latter a
reference to the small but growing number of applicants who have died
following the cessation of their benefits. ( 12) (13) (14)
If you read this Wikipedia article on Atos,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atos, you will see that the French
version is a bowdlerised version of the English version which does
make reference to the controversy of the withdrawal of benefits based
on reviews conducted by Atos.
The 'omerta' of the French press underlines the multinational clout of
Atos's Mr BRETON. This same person who already has a notorious history
at France Telecom, the company famous for numerous suicides.
Atos won the contract with the British government in an economic
recession and with a cost reduction program in place in the public
sector. With the right-wing government of Mr Cameron, a real witch
hunt was triggered against welfare recipients. A highly virulent
campaign by the British government has portrayed the disabled as
parasites who take advantage of the system, although fraud actually
represents only 0.5%. In this context, the requirements placed on Atos
are clear. The result is a reduction in the number of persons entitled
to disability benefits because the criteria have changed.
Since the system was first tested in late 2009 [note: under the
previous Govt] about 390,000 people have litigated in the courts of
appeal against a decision on suitability for employment. The courts
have been forced to open on Saturday and to increase their workforce
by 30% since January 2010 to deal with the workflow and the cost of
these appeals is expected to reach £50 million per year by the end of
this month. (7)
About 38% of all court appeals find in favor of the applicant, and the
benefit is subsequently granted. Where an applicant is supported in
his appeal by a person from an advocacy group, such as Citizens
Advice, the success rate is much higher approximately 68%. (8)
This shameful scandal should not stay in the shadows. Our duty as
employees of Atos members and trade unionists, is to inform you about
these events that affect disabled workers for whom on this side of the
Channel we have a special regard.
Your duty now is to participate in awareness-raising of the scandal by
informing your colleagues, friends and families.
Via DfMHP / credit to original author Anita Bellows.