Friday, 29 July 2011

We Were Only Following Orders

The letters to the Guardian reacting to its latest article discussing problems within the administration of the Work Capability Assessment by ATOS Origin have drawn an interesting, if rather odious, response. (see the entry by 'Prospect National Secretary' at

The powerful article by John Harris can be read here and is a reaction to the new report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions (see here), but steps beyond the report to look at a string of examples of malpractice, and wonder how all this can be happen while the general population remain blissfully unaware.

And now we see a response from Geraldine O'Connell, National Secretary of Prospect, the 'union' for ATOS Health Care Professionals (the doctors, nurses and physios who administer the test). Does she join in the horror at what is happening? I'll let you make your own minds up:

John Harris's article makes compelling and disturbing reading. But there are always two sides to a story.

Having introduced herself she goes on to explain:

Recent media interest on the experiences of claimants during the migration of incapacity benefit to employment support allowance has left heath care workers feeling bruised and demoralised

I'm sorry? Several disabled people are dead, dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands have been reduced to contemplating suicide, tens of thousands more have been forced through the stress of appeals (and left without the benefits they depend on for months, even years), the Tribunal Service is creaking under the strain of dealing with all of the foul-ups created by ATOS Origin HCPs (at a cost to the country of £50m), while thousands upon thousands of disabled people (including me) have been treated with utter contempt by her members, and she wants us to feel sorry for them? What kind of twisted mirror-world does she inhabit to think that her members are the sinned against?

She goes on to state:

Prospect fully supports the absolute requirement for all claimants to be treated with dignity and respect.

But gives no indication of how she proposes to ensure that is the case, because it certainly isn't the way her members are behaving now.

Then follows the big justification:

The criteria for qualification for benefit are determined through government policy and not by Atos.

Or in other words 'we were only following orders', and that's a defence that works really well, isn't it?

And for her grand exit she goes for the Big Lie:

health care professionals do not make any decisions on claims themselves

Yet Professor Malcolm Harrington made clear in his review of the WCA, as Geraldine O'Connell must be well aware, that the DWP 'decison makers' are institutionally incapable of overriding the ATOS HCPs due to an overdose of Doctor As God syndrome, meaning that every conclusion by an HCP is in near certainty a decision on a claim.

I'd like to congratulate Geraldine O'Connell on her letter, I didn't think that it was possible for my opinion of ATOS HCPs to sink lower, but her breathtaking arrogance in trying to claim that her members are the sinned against means that she has achieved it. If she really wants the sympathy of the public, then isn't it time the members of her organisation remember the oath they swore to do no harm, and the basic humanity that demands that they ensure that every WCA assessment takes place in such a way that the claimant understands what is being scored by every question asked of them, how their answers will be interpreted, that sits, and listens, and asks about things like repeatability and limitations they might not have thought to mention, and beyond all else, treats the person on the other side of their monitor screen as fully their equal, and a person in need of, and fully entitled to, their help. Anything less is a failure in their duty of care, and a violation of their oath.

And perhaps when her members have done that, then they will be worthy to ask the forgiveness of the disabled people they have abused.


  1. Her members can walk away from being ATOS assessors anytime they want to. The disabled can't walk away from being disabled - many, in fact, can't walk at all.


  2. And let's face it, if they have any respect for their duty of care and their oath, then walking away is exactly what they should do. The design of the WCA is incompatible with the requirement they act in the best interests of their patients, because that requires them to ensure that their patients understand at all times what is being asked of them, while the WCA deliberately obfuscates what is being asked.

  3. As a grassroots Prospect member (I don't work for Atos; Prospect represent quite a wide range of professions) I am appalled and ashamed that this was their official response. Atos's failings are well-documented and "we were only following orders" is a pitiful excuse.

  4. I have just written to Prospect about this, pointing out that I complained to ATOS and DWP about my assessor; and that my complaint was dismissed without any investigation.

  5. Perfect post, thanks David. I'd quote for truth, but it would have to be the whole thing! Ugh.

  6. @Anonymous #1: thanks for the support. It wasn't made clear in the letter that Prospect cover people outside of ATOS and I wouldn't want anyone to feel they were being criticised for actions at a company they don't even work for, but your union leadership clearly need an urgent change in attitude (or perhaps your union needs an urgent change in leadership ;) ).

  7. " The criteria for qualification for benefit are determined through government policy and not by Atos."

    If it is so then how can be explained that similar evaluation criteria, the frequent re-examinations and the same propaganda of fraudster sick and disabled are noticed also in other States of Europe ? Is these a pure coincidence ? Atos is already present in all Europe .
    " Atos Healthcare is a member of a number of organisations that attempt to influence Government " and " The relationship between the DWP, Unum and Atos Origin is very close ". Is sufficient to visit these sites in order to see that the DWP is not independent from Atos and Unum.
    Can be independent a DWP assembled with members that worked in banks and big companies ?
    Responsible are not only those who give the criminal orders but also those that execute these kind of orders.

    " Recent media interest on the experiences of claimants during the migration of incapacity benefit to employment support allowance has left heath care workers feeling bruised and demoralised ".
    Are these the Crocodile tears of Atos ? Before committing crimes why Atos does not return to its home in France ?
    Perhaps Atos wants to be remembered just like Germany of the 30's and the 40's ?
    Before refer us that " Only seven per cent of incapacity claimants are sick enough to stay on benefits for good ", the "sapients" of Daily Mail why don' t tell us what happened with the others that have been considered as "fit to work" ? Are they dead or alive ? Have lost all their properties ? Have sufferred a worsening of their health ?

    " Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have met executives from the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday on ten occasions since the election."
    Can we know also how many times Grayling and Freud have met executives from the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday ?