Apr 222011

By Tania Harris.

I am a hard worker, some may even say an over achiever, and I always have been.

For the last 10 years I have suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or M.E. for short, having contracted this following a viral flu like illness. Nevertheless, I struggled on for 10 years in a senior management position of a company I had founded.

We carried out work for our dear government rolling out the Out of School Childcare initiative. The company became the largest of its kind in the North East. It was hard but enjoyable and rewarding work.

In June 2010 I had a major relapse in health, which had accumulated from several smaller relapses. This has left me severely impaired and housebound/bed bound ninety percent of the time. My health has not improved despite long and frustrating sessions with physiotherapists, and the usual lack of support services for chronic M.E sufferers.

I receive higher rate mobility and middle rate care payments on Disability Living Allowance and my GP has started to do over the phone appointments, as she knows a visit to the surgery will set me back for a week.

I went onto Employment Support Allowance after my statutory sick pay ran out and I had to give up work. It is unlikely I will ever get back into a regular ‘9 to 5’ job and I am hoping the Job Centre can find me something where I sit in bed and lick envelopes all day or the like. I cannot explain how demoralising and degrading it is to become a “disabled statistic” and to see first hand how people in this position are treated.

I cannot be referred for mental health support as I am not clinical depressed. However, ‘invalided’ and ‘discriminated against’ can be used to describe my experiences.

And so, let me introduce ATOS Healthcare, the caring ‘health professionals’ – and their role in assessing our ability to work – despite what other proper health professionals say. So far I am keeping an open mind but here are my experiences so far and I hope to share them with you as the story unfolds.

I have determined to stay in employment in defiance of my health condition

At 2pm on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, I got a call from the ATOS Appointments Centre. I wonder how much overtime they are getting paid for working weekends? Are they checking to see if I am at home at the weekend?

Of course I’m at home. I am rarely able to enjoy the outdoors anymore.

That aside, the lady is nice and quite helpful – although she has definitely not read my recently returned form, describing my situation and my need to be assessed in the first place.

After going through all this with her she thinks I might qualify for a home visit or taxi pick up, as the assessment centre is a bit of a walk from the nearest car park. Although it is on ground level, people in wheelchairs or those reliant on walking aids, as I do, pose a fire risk in the building due to the speed they can be evacuated. She asks me to get my GP to fax them a letter detailing more info on my condition in order to assess the need for a home visit.

A day later, a letter arrived inviting me to the assessment centre for my appointment on the “provisional date” she first mentioned. Confused, I gave them a call to discuss the conversation about the GP fax etc. The man on the other end explained that they had to generate something on the computer after first contact and I should call them in a week to “move the appointment on a bit”.

This is to give them time to assess my GP letter when it arrives – as they do not approve home visits unless completely necessary, and some people are not genuine.

Hmmm…  This may be true in some  cases, but considering that the nature and extent of my disability has been long established and monitored by medical professionals, and that I have determined to stay in employment in defiance of my health condition, it really irks me that because of a perceived “high level of benefit fraud” the government chooses to treat me as guilty until proven innocent.

Anyhow I am waiting to see what will happen next. It is ironic that I had my first Atos contact during a time I was not in receipt of benefit. They had not processed my sick line and simply cut off my payments (with no explanation or contact).

Hopefully it will be paid soon and my anxiety regarding how ATOS will view my claim will prove to be unfounded.

… I’ll let you know.

Photography credits –
© Chiyacat | Dreamstime.com

© Scott Hales | Dreamstime.com