Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Atos Slated by DWP...

... but is that good for us, or bad?

As the whole country, and media, descended into Royal Baby frenzy, the Department of Work and Pensions chose their moment to slip out the news that Atos had failed, catastrophically, an audit on the Work Capability Assessment, and that DWP would be removing their WCA monopoly in order to bring in competitors from next year.

The DWP press release states that in an audit of 400 WCA reports, from WCAs conducted between October 2012 and March 2013, itself sparked by failure in a smaller audit, 41% were graded at C, or unacceptable. The press release reports that reasons for an unacceptable grade could be a decision which explained in sufficient detail, and is at pains to emphasise that a failing grade doesn't mean the assessment is wrong. Well they would say that, wouldn't they.

As a consequence of the failure, Atos are required to bring in a Performance Improvement Plan, with every Atos 'Health Care Professional' required to undergo retraining,  and to pass a re-evaluation, with those failing the evaluation subjected to auditing of their reports until they do, or until they have their authority to conduct WCAs withdrawn.

Now on the face of it this is good news, the rate of successful appeals against Atos WCA decisions* has been clearly unacceptable for three years now, and clearly change was needed, but the devil may be in the details.

The Atos computer system is well known for being incapable of catching the nuance of how disability restricts our lives, and this is a point where an HCP who actually cares about doing the job in an equitable fashion could use his experience to override the straitjacket of the WCA rules in order to give an assessment that is morally and medically right, rather than strictly in accordance with procedures. In other words, they could, novel idea though it may be, base a decision on the medical evidence. But this would likely be more difficult to express in the approved fashion on the written report. So simply demanding that someone meets the WCA standards does not necessarily mean the situation will improve.

Equally, and as many of the leading campaigners on the WCA have repeatedly emphasised, Atos are only a part of the problem. Atos could have lost the entire WCA contract and the WCA would still have been fundamentally broken, because its descriptors fail to reflect the reality of either disability, or work, and these aspects are not being changed, while the changes may make it more difficult for HCPs to work around the descriptors to reflect the best interests of their patient. Bringing in a new company to challenge the Atos monopoly cannot make any difference if the procedures remain the same, and if they are drawing their own HCP staff from largely the same pool of personnel, many demonstrated time and again to be personally hostile towards disabled people.

Anything that emphasises the failure of Atos has points in its favour, but the unfortunate reality is that the audit failure, and the changes that result, are at least as likely to make things worse for us as they are to make them better.

*DWP continue to maintain that Atos do not make the ultimate decision on a WCA, but the Harrington reports demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of Atos decisions are passed on the nod, so Atos don't make the decisions in precisely the same way that they don't enforce targets for number of people failed.

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