Oct 11 2012 by Julie Gilbert, Hamilton Advertiser
A FIRM accused of slashing the benefits of the genuinely sick is teaming up with NHS Lanarkshire.
Atos Healthcare was tasked by the government to assess the fitness to work of people on Incapacity Benefit.
But they were criticised for their methods, with sick and disabled people saying they were left humiliated and made to feel like criminals and liars.
Atos were also accused of wrongly assessing people as fit for work. In one shocking case an epilepsy sufferer died from a seizure allegedly brought on by the stress of having his benefits cut by £70 a week, after Atos assessed him fit for work.
Atos have now been asked to assess people receiving Disability Living Allowance, as they are moved on to another benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
However, this time assessments in Scotland will be carried out by the Occupational Therapy Department of NHS Lanarkshire, which is called Salus. It operates at arm’s length and also carries out work for other health boards and private companies, with any profit made being ploughed back into NHS Lanarkshire.
Salus will be overseeing and managing all assessments across Scotland, although some will be carried out in other areas.
NHS Lanarkshire insist other services will not suffer as a result of these assessments and that extra staff are likely to be taken on.
Hamilton MP Tom Greatrex is glad that NHS staff will be carrying out the assessments instead of staff employed directly by Atos, but he still has concerns.
Mr Greatrex said: “This highlights the level of concern there is about Atos Healthcare.
“They are sub-contracting out the work.
“An assessment of someone’s health and condition done by local people who understand the condition better – that’s got to be a good thing.
“But it’s important that the correct level of seriousness is given to the opinions of the local health professionals.”
The PIP assessments are due to start in June next year.
Atos deny they ever sought to assess people as fit to work in order to meet government targets.
A spokeswoman said: “Atos Healthcare makes no decisions on benefit entitlement and has no targets from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
“What we do is give the DWP information which forms part of the evidence base they use to make a decision on benefit entitlement.”
The DWP said the work capability assessments were a necessary part of the government’s welfare reforms, although stressed PIP assessmentsare completely separate and different.
A spokeswoman said: “This is a new approach working with regional providers for a service which best meets local needs.
“We think it’s right that Atoswill be working with local NHSServices. They already have rootsin their local communities and will provide familiar surroundings for people who are going for consultations.”