Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

THE TWO FACES OF ATOS:

In A.Graham on November 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm

For a week or so in August, the name of ATOS had been shunted into the headlines. Through a stroke of sheer perversity, the company had become a major sponsor of the Paralympic Games – an opportunity, perhaps, to promote their concern for the disabled.

Yet Atos has another face. The company had been chosen by the Government to vet those on disability allowance and to decide which claimants were genuine.

Many suspect that their role is really to prune drastically the numbers claiming the allowance, and to pronounce them “fit to work”. Many claim that the company operates a quota system (with a percentage of claimants to be struck off ), though Atos themselves deny this. Suffice to say, they have earned the ire of groups campaigning for a better deal for the disabled.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT:

Earlier in the summer, the company was the subject of two critical TV documentaries – one on the BBC and the other on Channel 4. Indeed, Channel 4 sent an undercover reporter in to investigate how it all works. Many of the medical staff working for Atos admitted that they were under pressure to “fail” claimants and have them removed from the disabled register – despite the fact that many of them are incapable of any sustained employment.

WHO ARE ATOS?

It’s fair to say that the company has managed to make itself highly unpopular with those who’re concerned with the welfare of disabled people. But who are Atos?

It’s fair to say that the company has managed to make itself highly unpopular with those concerned with the welfare of disabled people. But who are Atos?

They are a French-based company, originally centred on IT. But now they are also one of those companies picked by a Government intent on “outsourcing” roles and activities that should be the concern of the civil service (in this case, the Department of Work and Pensions). Atos seems to pander to the perception that a high percentage of those claiming benefits are “on the fiddle” (untrue, as official statistics show).

The head offices of Atos are in Bezons, in France. The company was formed in 1997, with the merger of two French-based IT companies. Since then it has grown with further acquisitions and is now number two in the European IT market.

The division of this now global company responsible for managing the Work Capability Assessment project is Atos Healthcare, which employs over 3,000 people, over half of whom are “medical professionals”.

COMPLAINTS:

A major complaint made against Atos Healthcare in assessing those on disability allowance is the reliance by the assessors on computerised scripts which rely on simple “yes/no” answers. It rules out any doctor-patient interaction, and is, of course, totally insufficient when it comes to dealing with the complexity and range of disability.

One doctor, who attended an Atos recruitment centre wrote in the British Medical Journal that she felt it wasn’t possible for a doctor to work as an Atos assessor and, at the same time, adhere to the professional responsibility to place the needs of the patient first at all times.

There have of course been other major complaints – and a significant number of appeals against the decisions made by Atos assessors have been successful – though it’s worth noting here that many disabled people can’t afford the cost of an appeal, and any legal aid available to them will cease next year. An article in the newspaper “i” on August 29 reported that more than 40 doctors and nurses working for Atos have been reported to medical regulators for alleged misconduct.

Meanwhile, demonstrations against Atos by disability groups and supporters have continued – particularly during the Paralympics. These have included protests outside Atos offices in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast.

It is, of course, easy to say that Atos Healthcare is “not fit for purpose” – but that depends on what the purpose is meant to be. If the company really does have a brief to slash the numbers claiming disability allowance, then the buck stops with the Government that appointed this company in the first place. But however we look at it, Atos has managed to bring into focus the Government’s real attitude towards the disabled.

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  1. Undertstandably social enterprise has got bad press from the experience of our NHS. Some however aren’t about displacing the public sector. Ours for example focussed on children with disabilities in Eastern Europe.

    In 2006, I asked for Mark Harper’s help when ATOS origin made false claims of non response to their enquiries to eject us from a IT contract with DCMS. This kind odf contract supported our work. He waas unable to help, finally simply referring me back to DCMS who didn’t reply.

    When He announced the UK Trafficking In Persons Report recently, I wrote to him pointing out how our work focussed on the root causes of which trafficking is one of the consequences. A government agency working with several corporate partners had hijacked our project, stripping out the key social objective and leaving us empty handed while the most vulnerable children had been brushed under the carpet to appease powerful local economic interests, i.e. orgainsed crime.

    I make the point that we can’t hope to end trafficking while government themselves are indistinguishable from mafia. I note that he doesn’t care to answer:

    http://economics4humanity.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/the-uk-trafficking-in-persons-report/

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