The Work Capability Assessment – Audio recording

“Disingenuous” is a word I find I only use and use a lot when talking about the DWP.

The thought about audio-recording a WCA cropped up over a year ago and immediately gained the support of the illustrious Professor Harrington.  More recently, there has been a lot of upset due to confusion over how will it work, when will it be available etc. and it has been the source of several parliamentary questions from interested MPs to the equally illustrious the Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment.

But before getting into DWP’s shenanigans, it is important to remember why this facility was of interest in the first place.  It was simply to address the level of mistrust that ESA claimants have in the Atos healthcare professions (HCPs) that perform WCAs.

It is not about the WCA’s fitness for purpose, it is not about how well it can accommodate the nuances of complicated conditions, it is solely to address the fact that Atos HCPs cannot be trusted to accurately record a WCA – the perception is that they will add stuff in, leave stuff out and distort stuff to “justify” a particular outcome i.e. that people who may not be fit for work are passed fit for work.

Of all the criticisms of the WCA model at every level, this has to be the most damning.

However, Harrington and Grayling fairly glibly skipped over this sad indictment, seemingly content to treat symptoms rather than causes – not exact untypical. So the first sensible step was to set up a trial, which was of very limited scope in one assessment centre over a year ago – not a complicated project and one that could be set up using the standard management techniques applied to exercises like this.

In relation to where the project is now, it is actually hard to say, due to the veil DWP has drawn over it.

  • The scope and rigours of the trial aside, it ran for 6 months and ended over 6 months ago, ample time you would have thought to analyse the results and make a formal, fully costed, risk assessed recommendation.  Not so.
  • Not only are the results N/A, but apparently none of the standard pre-project documentation was completed, let alone signed-off.  There are therefore no documented objectives, success criteria, assumptions etc., etc., i.e. nothing that would allow an objective assessment to be made at the end of the trial.  This is from a department that prides itself in the use of “best practice”.
  • Many attempts to find out more through the FoI Act are simply being refused using an exemption often employed for information that is being used for report in preparation  – you have to wait for the report itself.  No publication date has been offered – it will just be released “soon”.
  • Despite the fact that no results have been published and under the pressure of several parliamentary written questions, Mr Grayling has seen fit to declare the trail a success (the basis of which is still unclear) and confirm the facility is now available (to what extent is equally unclear).  He has however pointed out that claimant interest in the trial was at best lukewarm. Of course with no project set-up documentation, it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the launch and claimants would not have asked for something they had no idea existed.  Also, novices attending their very first WCA would be oblivious to the deceptions that take place and would generally not request a recording anyway.
  • The Atos CEO has publicly declared that from his point of view that all of Professor Harrington’s recommendations are complete and technically he is probably right – the issues with this now sit with DWP.
  • Mr Grayling has boasted likewise, but is clearly using a very loose definition of “implementation”. [DWP does in fact have its own dictionary where words do not have their accepted meaning]
  • Updates to reference and training manuals, publications etc. have not yet been released and existing documentation makes no mention of this facility.
  • No announcement has been made, so the vast majority of people will be blissfully unaware.
  • Rumour has it that there is currently only one recorder that is couriered around the country as needed.  It records the two CDs needed simultaneously.
  • The key issue of whether or not DWP will accept a recording as evidence at any stage is also not clear.  The limited pre-trial information (which DWP is trying to disown) indicates they were only prepared to treat it as an aide memoire for claimants – something you could take home as a memory jogger, nothing more.

So, if you do want a session recorded, the safest bet is to advise Atos & DWP (also not clear who to tell so best to tell both) as soon as you get your WCA appointment letter, to give them maximum time to arrange or rearrange the appointment if need be.  This way the delay can’t be attributed to you (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/wca_audio_recordings_3).

There is much discussion about claimants recording for themselves – openly or surreptitiously and again the rules are not yet clear.  There are questions about legality over the latter, but as far as I can see it is not illegal per se as long as it is for private use only – but note, IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer).

The existing published rules say that the HCP has to agree to be recorded and can cancel the WCA – who the cancellation is attributable is not clear (take nothing for granted) (see http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/wca_audio_recordings_4)

What is patently obvious is that DWP does not want to take this forward. The natural suspicion is that this is because doing so would confirm that Atos cannot be trusted and DWP cannot be trusted to do anything about it.

Sadly, it will undoubtedly slow things down and increase costs , but that is the price of treating symptoms not causes – just add it to the escalating costs associated with this outsourcing decision.

It might be anticipated that the DWP will take every opportunity to scupper it.  The first ploy might be to play it down/keep it quiet so demand will be low, allowing the claim that low demand means it is not cost effective.

It is important, then, to broadcast the availability of this opportunity as widely as you can.  It would be interesting if the opposite was produced: instant massive demand that Atos cannot cope with, forcing an even bigger backlog of assessments.

PS: I have included here a few links to related FoI Act requests, but there are many others.

PPS: I find I have reached the end and not used that wretched word once – how odd!

PPPS:  If for this (and in fact any other) reason through no fault of the claimant, a WCA is delayed beyond the initial 13 weeks, following a recent court judgement DWP has to increase the ESA rate to WRAG – it can only apply the “assessment rate” for 13 weeks max (http://tia-junior.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/important-esa-payment-decision.html).

3 thoughts on “The Work Capability Assessment – Audio recording”

  1. here is a draft of a letter i am composing to Atos:
    “I have received an appointment from yourselves regarding a medical examination for monday 18th June at 11.15.i feel sure that there has been some kind of mix up since my last visit to the above centre at 08.30 on friday 20th april, and i am sure we can get things cleared up.i assume that understandably your staff are overworked from the llack of continuity i am experincing, and the obvious stress the lady i spoke to at previous in april. she was so stressed that i had to ask her 3 times not to raise her voice to me. she would not give me her name, perhaps because she was very upset that i saw no reason to stop my personal recording of the assessment.i asked 3 or 4 times for a copy of the policy that she was referring to regarding this, which even though it in no way applies to me that i am aware of, she said it was not available to me.you can imagine my confusion, which was further added to when i asked for a paper copy of the assessment upon completion and she told me that would be impossible, asking me to leave her office immediately.This was even more confusing to me,a sit was my second visit to the centre that week, causing me further considerable pain and almost intolerable stress due to my chronic incurable back pain due to severely damaged discs in my lower back. i am sure that your specialist staff, as one of the conditions of the Atos and dwp agreement states clearly, will be more than aware.i can only surmise that the level of her stress made her bahave in that manner. i am all too familiar wth the devastating effects of stress having suffered with mantal health problems all my life. i am very plaesed that my stress levels were not so bad on this day that i would lose my dignity there. i checked with my companion whether he thought my behaviour was inappropriate and he reassured me that it was not. i was feeling very confused and fearful by now as i could not understand the lady behaving this way towards me.

    my surprise at this further appointment in June is also compounded by the fact that upon being asked to leave i requested a written copy of what had transpired as another side effect of my mental illness is cognitive, something your medical staff will i am sure be very aware of again due to it being a condition of the DWP contract mentioned earlier. this letter, signed by your medical staff and countersigned by me, clearly state my request for confirmation of the policy regarding recording of the assessment, and an indication that this would be sent to me forthwith. I have recieved nothing since then, which again has added to my anxiety and stress considerably, but there is a chance it has been misplaced in the post, perhaps?

    i have made a FOI (freedom of information) request regarding the dreadful rumours that Atos receive more money for every person who is denied benefit, as i am sure that this is not the case.it would not fit with the statement on your website “Our clients come first. We respond to and anticipate client needs and expectations. Working in partnership we aim to write business history together.” as it would seem to be incongruent with those aims. i am deeply concerned that my experience with yourselves seems to be at odds with that, and can only put this down to stress and overload within your organisation. i only have experience at Chatham, but sadly there appear to be others claiming similar experiences on the many websites and bulletin boards that i am able to access when my back pain and depression allow me to. this i am sure you will agree is extremely undesirable, and could lead to more public scapegoating and perhaps even loss of contract for yourselves in the current political climate.solmething that is no-ones desire, in fact i look forward to being as instrumental as i can in alleveiating these misunderstandings very soon.

    i heartily agree that the wellbeing of all concerned, especially the very ill and disabled vulnerable people who are referred by the DWP for assessment must be above concerns of money and anything else, something i am sure that will be uppermost of concern to yourselves at the moment. There would appear to be more criticism levelled at yourselves at the meoent due to the BMA convention voting for the WCA to be scrapped.

    i believe that we can work together to start to show publicly Atos Healthcare to be the caring and professional company that it is.

    as the FOI request and your policy copy may take longer to reach me than the 18th of June, i would suggest the following – re scheduling the appointment.

    i will record the assessment myself, and request that you also record for your own purposes. this will be evidence of the open and caring nature of Atos, and show that there is nothing to fear when i make it available for public perusal.

    i will also video the whole process at no extra cost to you, from entry to the center til leaving, again once this is on line it will assure the many doubting people of Atos’ genuine concern and care for its vulnerable and very sick assessees.

    i would like the full medical qualifications of the doctor who will be carrying out the asesssment including BMA number and work history including the areas of special mention in the DWP agreement, mental health and musculo-skeletal specialities. this will again show the great levels that Atos are prepared to go to to ensure patients wellbeing.if you require access to my medical records prior to this for more accurate diagnosis, i believe i can have them made available. there will however be a cost involved to yourselves, but i am sure that this can be authorised as we are creating a great positive publicity opportunity here.

    i have invited, by way of copying this letter to them, members of the press,(local and national), radio media (local and national) MIND the mental health charity, Shelter, my local MP, GP and community lawyers, Neves Scott of Dartford; and will be sending copies to the Rt hons Chris Grayling and Ian Duncan Smith.i hope together we can all work to reassure the public that any fears over the WCA and Atos are greatly exaggerated and any confusion is down to pressure of work from above.

    may i further suggest a way that the ongoing training and internal awareness within Atos can be added to, something i am sure that you as a company will be more than keen to do.there are many millions of people who, like myself are “experts” in their own illnesses who would be a great resource to help clarify the obviously diverse and literally millions of ways in which chronic illness canmanifest it in us.we could establish a working relationship, perhaps as consultants? this would work on many levels as all people like myself areunable to commit to full time work due to the complications of chronic illness , but would greatly love to be able to help out and get paid for that.this again would be a fantastic opportunity to show that Atos Healthcare really do care about their role in the wellbeing of all the people it works with.

    i look forward to a long and mutually rewarding working relationship with yourselves”

  2. you got to give it to them they dont give up .atos the biggest liars i have ever seen as most of us going into a medical centre for interveiw find we can do cartwheels and work 20 hrs a day who have they got jesus in the next room making us so fit ,how do they get away with it thats the crying shame no mps are saying kick them out only they got to work with them grow yourselfes a pair and do the decent thing throw them back to usa oh i forgot they dont want them 55million reasons and some more jeff3

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