MORE than half of those on long-term incapacity benefit who have had new face to face medical assessments have had their payments stopped after they were found to be fit to work.
Social Care bosses have defended the tests used by the controversial Atos Healthcare consultancy which has been brought in to carry out the assessments here on a six-month trial.
Campaigners held a week of action at the Paralympics against Games sponsor Atos Healthcare calling for it to be stripped of its £100m contract with the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions in protest at its ‘flawed’ approach which they claim has left thousands denied the right benefits.
Two doctors from Atos Healthcare arrived here in July to carry out face-to-face personal capability assessments of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit.
So far decisions on claimants’ capability for work have been made in 32 cases. Of those, 14 (43.8 per cent) were determined to be incapable of work and so can continue to receive benefit but 18 (56.2 per cent) were found capable of work and payment of their benefit has been stopped.
The average rate of incapacity benefit is £99.50 per week and so the potential savings made so far could amount to £93,000 a year. But Darrin Oldam, deputy director of social security policy and legislation, said many of those who had been taken off incapacity benefit will instead claim alternative benefits, such as jobseeker’s allowance, so the savings ‘may be minimal, if any’. He said as more people were assessed he expected a smaller percentage would be deemed capable of work. ‘The trend will be downwards,’ he said.
There are currently about 2,000 long-term claimants in the island who have received incapacity-related benefits – that is, contribution-based Incapacity Benefit and/or Income Support as an incapacitated person – for more than six months.
Mr Oldam said Atos Healthcare had supplied two of their most experienced doctors, both with a Diploma in Disability Assessment Medicine, to conduct seven face to face assessments each week. A maximum of 182 claimants will be assessed over the course of the 26-week trial, if all those given appointments attend.
A person can be found incapable of work without the need for a face to face assessment in some circumstances – but a claimant cannot be found capable of work without an assessment having been conducted.
In the UK, disability campaigners have branded the work capability assessments carried out by Atos Healthcare as unfit for purpose. Some claim the assessments are degrading and harmful and cause unnecessary extra stress and anxiety to the disabled and chronically sick – and they argue that it is simply an exercise in cutting the welfare bill.
But Yvette Mellor. deputy chief executive of the Department of Social Care, said: ‘Atos are here for a period of six months to carry out personal capability assessments to see how it works and how effective it is with a view to putting it out to contract in future.
‘They’ve been doing this for a number of years in the UK. We’ve deliberately not taken this on board until we knew they had established a process that was fit for purpose.
‘There was initially a lot of negative press in the UK. The two doctors that have come here have had a lot of compliments about how fairly they have treated people. Some people may not be happy with the outcome of their assessment. But overall we are very comfortable that the work they are doing is to a high standard and fit for purpose.’
Ms Mellor insisted that cost cutting was not the motive behind bringing in Atos.
She said: ‘It’s not for that purpose that we are doing it. If people can work they should but equally we need to ensure that people who can’t work continue to receive support and are paid the right amount.’
There are no plans at present to bring in medical assessments for long-term claimants of Disability Living Allowance, she added.
One Douglas man who has claimed incapacity benefit for five years, and has recently been assessed by Atos, has written to Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK to express his concerns.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, has been signed off as unfit to work by his own doctor due to stress and depression.
His medical assessment was carried out by Atos’s medical director.
Following the assessment he was ruled incapable for work and his benefit was allowed to continue until it is reviewed again in a year’s time.
But he said: ‘He introduced himself to me by showing me a driving licence, not a medical card of any kind.
‘When I suggested he should contact the health professionals I have seen over the years, he suggested that he might not have to.
‘I asked how he could do a detailed report without dealing with people who have known me and treated me for years.’
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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