In this blog I am stepping outside my comfort zone, so if I have made any glaring errors, please be kind! But in following the various horror stories, screams of outrage and complacent comments of "I told you so" arising from ATOS's assessments of fitness to work, one thing puzzles me. Why on earth has the Government engaged an external company to do this work, no doubt in return for handsome remuneration, when it already has a huge workforce that is more than capable of undertaking these assessments?
I refer, of course, to GPs.
GPs have access to patient medical records - which ATOS don't. For those claimants who are actually sick, their GP will be the person who manages their condition, refers them to consultants, deals with any aftercare following hospital admissions, sees them for repeat medical checks. Some of this work may well be done by practice nurses or health visitors, but the GP has ultimate responsibility. For those claimants who are disabled rather than sick, the GP is still likely to know them well. Why on earth weren't GPs given the responsibility of assessing claimants to determine what work they could do?
Could it be that our Government doesn't trust GPs to assess claimants accurately? Oh dear. Not a great endorsement of our medical system.
Or could it be that the aim of the Government in outsourcing ESA and DLA claim assessments was not to ensure that those who really are sick and disabled get the money they need to live on, but to eliminate as many claims as possible to reduce the bills and keep Daily Mail readers happy?
A look at the ATOS website (occupational health section) is informative. Yes, they are involved in healthcare assessments for private companies too, so they are obviously experienced in this area. But these assessments are aimed at keeping workforces healthy, reducing absence due to sickness and facilitating rehabilitation back to work. Well, well. It couldn't be that this is what attracted the Government, could it?
Helping people back to work is a reasonable thing to do. But the way they are going about it doesn't make any sense. How can a tick-box assessment by a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist who has never met the claimant before be a better judgement of someone's fitness to work than a GP's report?
The Work Capability Assessment process conducted by ATOS has been seriously criticised by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions. Maybe it's time to replace it with something that really works for both claimants and Government?