A CONSULTANCY appointed to carry out fitness to work tests on island benefit claimants has been forced into retreat in Scotland following outcry over its methods.
Atos Healthcare has been brought in on a six month trial to carry out medical assessments here on long-term incapacity benefit claimants.
The Examiner revealed last month that half of the 32 incapacity benefit claimants who have had face-to-face personal capability assessments have had their payments stopped after they were found to be fit to work.
But there have been continuing concerns among campaigners about the methods used by Atos, which had a £100m a year contract with the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions.
In Scotland, the French company was to receive £40m of taxpayers’ money to assess claimants for the new personal independence payment, which will replace Disability Living Allowance starting next year.
There had been widespread criticism of its approach to assessing the sick and disabled in Scotland.
But now Atos is to subcontract the work to an NHS ‘social enterprise’ Salus, which will handle all PIP assessments north of the border from next June.
A spokesman for Atos said: ‘The DWP has asked that we take a new approach for the Personal independence Payment working with regional providers for a service which best meets local needs. We were selected following open and fair competition and will be working with local NHS Services, which have roots in their local communities and will provide familiar surroundings for people who are going for consultations.’
However, Atos will continue to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ in Scotland for employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit.
Atos has signed a £22m deal with Salus, which is the occupational health arm of NHS Lanarkshire.
Labour MP Tom Greatrex, a leading campaigner against the Atos assessment methods, described the move as a ‘humiliating climbdown’ by the consultancy.
Social Care bosses in the island say they will not disclose how much Atos Healthcare is charging to carry out fitness to work assessments, saying the figure is ‘commercially confidential’.
We have seen a copy of the tick box assessments used to determine whether a claimant is fit for work. Among the questions it asks is whether you can pick up a £1 coin with either hand or whether you can raise your arm to the top of your head as if to put on a hat.
Social Care bosses say that while personal capability assessments are like to be a permanent element of the incapacity benefit claim process, it is not yet confirmed whether Atos will continue to provide that service. They say they have received ‘considerable positive feedback’ from claimants.
There are no plans at present to bring in medical assessments for long-term claimants of Disability Living Allowance, they added.