Atos, the French IT firm who deliver the Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA), were slammed by doctors at last week’s annual BMA Conference, who demanded that the vicious health and disability testing be brought to an immediate end.
The Work Capability Assessment is the short, computer based assessment which is used by the Department of Work and Pensions to decide on eligibility for the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been wrongly assessed by the brutal and shambolic regime, with over 40% of appeals against decisions made by Atos being overturned on appeal. An increasing number of suicides have been linked to the assessment process which has been described by medical staff as relentless. Evidence from claimant’s GPs and other medical consultants is sidelined in place of the short tick box test carried out by Atos, a test which was simply designed to redefine disability and strip benefits from as many people as possible.
So pleased are the Government with Atos’ ruthless performance, they are planning to extend this form of assessment in an attempt to slash Disability Living Allowance from a fifth of disabled people.
GPs have all too often witnessed the tragic front line of Welfare Reform, being powerless to act as corporate sharks bully vulnerable patients out of vital benefits. People who have been declared ‘fit for work’ have sometimes died within days of their assessment, whilst many people with mental health conditions have been subsequently sectioned due to the stress of the inhumane system.
At last week’s BMA conference, the annual meeting of the body which represents doctors, a motion was put forward to demand that the WCA should be ended “with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm to some of the weakest and vulnerable in society”.
London GP Louise Irvine attacked the system by accusing it of creating the ‘McDonaldisation’ of doctor’s careers. The Atos assessments are carried out by medical staff and usually overseen by doctors, yet the short test is little more than a box ticking exercise with little or no in-depth assessment of often varied and fluctuating conditions. Campaigners have called for all medical staff to respect the fundamental medical principle of ‘first do no harm’ and recognise the very real damage that this cruel and degrading system is causing in people’s lives.
Doctors and nurses should not be used as a front for an ideological attack on the welfare state. The BMA’s decision is a welcome move showing that Doctors are prepared to put the need of patients before those of profit hungry global IT corporations or Tory cuts.
The BMA’s decision is a credit to the heroic lobbying which has been carried out by disabled people and benefit claimants such as the Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights who championed the call for the motion. Last year protests were also held outside the British Medical Journal’s (the publishing arm of the BMA) recruitment fair due to the the presence of Atos recruiters at the event.
Despite the smears and accusations of selfishness aimed at GPs after the recent pension strike, this decision shows that doctors are both concerned about, and prepared to stand up, for their patients. Whilst it’s true that doctors are far from the poorest in society, their industrial muscle should be welcomed by all those fighting both public pension cuts and the ruthless right wing current austerity measures.
The mood amongst doctors appears to remain militant, with delegates voting for an escalation of industrial action against pension cuts as well as a motion calling for Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to resign.
Black Triangle have called for doctors to turn the vote against the Work Capability Assessment into action by boycotting the scheme and calling on other medical bodies to do the same. A statement on their website reads:
“We now call upon the BMA to give full effect to motion 480 by calling for a full boycott of the WCA. No doctor should violate the code of medical ethics by supplying their labour to AtoS.
We call upon the General Medical Council to revoke, with immediate effect, DWP/AtoS’ assessment centres’ “Approved Medical Environment” status and launch a full inquiry. Doing nothing is no longer an option. People are dying.
We furthermore ask that the BMA calls upon all the other professional bodies and individuals who as Health Care Professionals (‘HCPs’) supply their labour to AtoS, perpetrating and legitimising policies and systems that cause serious, even fatal harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.”
Apologies for being a bit late with this news, but since it appears to have been completely ignored by the mainstream press outside of the Guardian’s letters page, it is worthy of far wider attention.