Apr 222013

By Suzanne Kelly.

Evidence continues to mount against the French giant ATOS, brought in to assess the fitness of UK citizens to work or otherwise, yet the current UK Government does nothing.

Sensationally, Dr Stephen Bick MP claimed to have uncovered a quota system through which ATOS planned to allow only one in every eight people it assessed to be considered permanently unable to work, irrespective of the medical facts.

Scores of people have had their own physicians’ opinions overturned. Bick has called for a National Audit Office report.  And still ATOS carries on, at great expense to the taxpayer, with its ritualistic, insensitive, arcane investigations and operations.

Sometimes they cause upset and damage before the client even sees a doctor – take David Brazendale’s case.

In his words, here is his Aberdeen ATOS experience.

“I had an appointment set to take place at the ATOS Medicals, Aberdeen centre today at 11.20. It never happened as I was told when I got there at 11.10, the required 10 min early, that there was a 2 hour wait. Well, the air nearly turned blue with steam coming from my ears. This is a copy of the e-mail I have just sent them.”

“Dear Sirs

I am writing to you today to make an official complaint about your Aberdeen Medical Centre. I had an appointment today scheduled to take place at 11.20 at the Aberdeen medical centre, I struggled to make the appointment after a 45 min journey to get there the required 10 min early for the appointment.

When I got there I was informed that there was a long wait for my appointment well you can imagine my shock to find out that is was at least a 2 Hour wait, at the time I was there was only one other person sitting in the waiting room. I find this totally unacceptable as I had an appointment for a set time , also I have not received any communication before I got there today.

I said that I would come back in 2 hours as I could not sit and wait for 2 hours, anyway how many disabled people do you know who could sit and wait for 2 hours?

I was then told that I could not come back in 2 hours as it might upset the afternoon appointment so I was sent away and was told that I would get another appointment for a different day, it’s bad enough that I have to go there in the first place, never mind the fact that I was only released from Hospital yesterday the 11th April after having a hernia repair operation and I was in severe pain on top of the chronic back pain that I have anyway.

I have contacted my local Job Centre Plus about this, who told me I had to make a complaint to ATOS myself.

Yours Disgusted

David John Brazendale.”

At David’s invitation I contacted ATOS on Monday 15 April, asking questions relating to both his bad experience and ATOS’s treatment of Justin Smith. David now has a letter from ATOS regarding his e-mail and it has launched an investigation into his complaint which should take four weeks or less to complete.

ATOS was asked to explain its lack of communication with David. Its own charter reads,

“We aim to keep to your appointment time, and if not, we will update you about any waiting times”

Other issues put to ATOS include:-

  • Please confirm whether or not everything is running in Aberdeen as it should,
  • Please confirm what should be done when an appointment is running late – do you call the patient or not?
  • Is it policy to read a patient’s existing notes in advance? If not, why not?
  • Are patients allowed to reschedule if they have newly come from hospital or have some other issue?
  • Do you tell people in advance that when you ask them to, for instance, move a box from place to place you are not making a medical diagnosis, but determining if they can do moving work?
  • Does ATOS believe that anyone on chemotherapy or radiotherapy should be working?
  • Why would someone be forced to wait in your waiting rooms if there was a two hour wait?

In a spokesperson’s response on Thursday 18 April, I was given contact details for anyone wishing to make a formal complaint.

ESA/WCA Customer Service: Telephone 0800 2888 777. E-mail: customer-relations@atoshealthcare.com

Anyone with a complaint should register it, but judging by the evidence of those who have gone down the complaint route, I would not expect a particularly sympathetic, helpful, quick decision.

The spokesperson continued,

“Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists work hard to provide a compassionate and professional service for all those asked to an assessment, at what we know can be a difficult and emotional time. Last year we conducted over one million assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

“If there is any aspect of our service that people are not satisfied with, we would urge them to make a complaint to us directly so that we can thoroughly investigate and make changes if necessary.”

To my cancer-related questions, they had this to say:

“On your cancer question, please may I refer you to a recent announcement made by the DWP on cancer regulations for the WCA? You will be aware that DWP own the policy surrounding the WCA not ATOS Healthcare.”

It seems that following orders is the order of the day at ATOS. If it wishes to disavow responsibility for part of the work it carries out as a medical practitioner, could this put ATOS medical ethics in a poor light? I recommend reading the full transcript of Dame Anne Begg MP’s recent contribution to the debate from which this is an extract,

“It is not enough for Government to say that the genuine claimant has nothing to fear. In too many cases, genuine claimants are not scoring any points in their initial assessment. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system and the contract that ATOS is delivering.

“When the British Medical Association votes at its conference to say that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose there is something wrong with the system. When GPs are reporting an increased workload, not just as a result of providing reports but as a result of treating patients whose condition has worsened as a result of their WCA experience, there is something wrong with the system.”

Sources/further reading:


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Apr 182013

By Justin Smith.

3 years ago, I was a successful IT systems Engineer earning in excess of thirty thousand pounds a year and had been in continuous employment since leaving university.

On 15th Aug 2010 I was in a road traffic accident that turned my world upside down. I was left in Critical condition in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as a result.

According to RoSPA,  80,000 people a year are seriously injured on the road. So it could happen to anyone!

I had 3 major surgeries in ARI and 2 further surgeries including a total hip replacement up to December 2011. On the 9th of May 2012 I was assessed by ATOS to be fit to work.

This was despite the fact I was on crutches and due to have my 6th surgery in August 2012, on a leg I am fortunate still to have.

I had that surgery in August and there was absolutely no chance I would have been fit to work for several months even if everything went well. As it was, I spent most of September in ARI due to an existing infection in my leg. I needed 4 more surgeries as a result.

I was in no way physically fit to work for many months afterwards.

My consultant had said as much in a letter I had requested and that was presented at my tribunal.

In addition to my physical injuries, ATOS took no account of the effects of my head injury believing that my spending an hour at a time on FB was sufficient evidence that I could return to work!

Maybe if I worked for ATOS?

The WCA takes no account of my fatigue and the anger issues resulting from head injuries. I have since had my Tribunal – March 2013- and although they gave me 6 points, I was still judged to have been fit to work last may, at least according to the limited criteria of the WCA.

How anybody can reach the decision that I was fit to work in May 2012 and how the tribunal can confirm that decision, based on any form of reason is beyond me.

They said I was fit to work when they knew I had upcoming surgery that I obviously needed. Subsequent to that surgery I was in hospital for a month for 4 more surgeries, with a further 6 weeks of hospital visits to attend to open wounds.

Those wounds did not close until the week before Christmas 2012. That was 5 months and I was still recovering. In what way would I have been fit to work over that period?

I am currently on the Momentum pathways program for head injuries to prepare me for a return to work this summer. It has helped a great deal and I wouldn’t have been fit to return to work without it.

I plan to go back to work part time in May and build up my hours from there.

It was always a primary objective in my recovery to get back to work! If I, as a hard working productive member of society am treated like this when I need the help most, what is the welfare system for?

I am one of the lucky ones in having the support of my family and being able to get back to work. Other people aren’t so lucky and are dying or left destitute due to the actions of this government.

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Sep 132012

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Congratulations to all those who took part in the Paralympics – whether as athlete, supportive family member, friend, carer or spectator.

This was by all accounts the biggest, most successful, most visible (and probably most vibrant and dynamic) Paralympics to date.

And yes, congratulations to Team GB for their impressive haul of metals – but nationalism should not be the most important focal point of this great event.

This might be a good point to mention that sporting achievement and medals are not the only area where people with special abilities excel. 

Want proof?  Please visit VSA’s Easter Anguston farm before 23rd September and walk the art and sculpture trail, part of the North East Open Studios programme.  Not only is this a well laid out, environmentally sensitive show with wonderful artwork on view.

It’s also a collaboration between people from different age groups, skill levels and abilities – local professional artists’ work is shown alongside the work of children, people with autism, and people from other countries.  This show treats them all the same, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell what kind of person has created the works that greet you:  they are all, without exception beautiful and amazingly creative.

Things are improving for people with special requirements and special sets of skills, but unfortunately, there are signs all around that we’re just not doing as well as we should in terms of help, inclusion and respect.  Let’s do better.

Hopefully here in the Deen emergency services have now stopped parking their vehicles in ‘Handicapped’ parking spaces.  You might remember a certain instance when a fire truck parked at a local supermarket in the handicapped spaces so the firemen/women could go shopping.

Perhaps some relevant definitions won’t go amiss.  And furthermore, as we’re all suffering from UTG fatigue, this will be a web-free column this week (well, I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it).

Uncomfortable: (adjective) state of being at ease or mildly distressed.

Pity the poor staff and customers who were at Costa Coffee in our own Bon Accord shopping mall yesterday:  they were made ‘uncomfortable’.  The Walker family were feeding their young, ill child Brayden  via a feeding tube.  How rude of them!

Naturally, they were asked to leave.  We can’t have that sort of thing in public, and Mrs Walker should just stay home with her child.  According to the Scottish Sun, Brayden’s parents were asked to leave and never return to the Bon Accord Centre café in Aberdeen.  Somehow, Old Susannah doesn’t think they will want to.

I also mystically predict that Costa Coffee will continue to feel ‘uncomfortable’ for some time to come as sales slump.

  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there

This must be the first time that such an offensive sight was seen in our town.  Let’s hope we can stick to our traditional public behaviour standards of assaults and good old-fashioned drunken exploits.

I would like to commend the bravery of the person who made the complaint against the Walker family; it’s important to stand up for your right of not having to look at ill people.  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there.  Rather than explaining to the complainant that not everyone is well and healthy, or that everyone has the right to peacefully pursue a normal life.  Nope, just a get out and don’t come back.

Well played!  Wonder what they’d have said to Christopher Reeve or Stephen Hawking?

Brayden suffers from the kidney condition posterior urethral valves and needs 24-hour care.  Therefore, like anyone else suffering with a medical problem, he should just stay out of sight, at least until ATOS hit him with a benefits assessment appointment at some future point.

ATOS: (proper noun) a multinational company, services include IT services – and work fitness assessments.

Old Susannah has an acquaintance (who i would like to consider to be a friend, too) who was in a serious accident over a year ago.  In that year there have been operations (they are on a first name basis with doctors and nurses at the local hospital treating them), setbacks, challenges and so on.

This person is currently in hospital (again), and has not been able to move without discomfort (if at all) for much of this time.  As well as the physical devastation, there must also be a heck of a lot of stress and residual trauma.

Naturally, a benefits assessor has visited, and told this layabout to get back to work and that their benefits are to be cut.

In the spirit of the age, ATOS, the benefits assessment firm, comes to mind.  They are proud sponsors of the Paralympics.  Hooray!

They were also implicated in scandalous treatment of the long-term disabled.  The Guardian newspaper had this report in July:-

“Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years’ experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, which will be broadcast on Monday 30 July at 8pm. Undercover filming shows Bick being told by his trainer that he will be watched carefully over the number of applicants he found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments.

“The trainer tells trainee assessors: “If it’s more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back ‘your rate is too high.'” When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: “How do we know? I don’t know who set the criteria but that’s what we are being told.”

“Bick asked: “So if we put 20% in, we would get picked up on?”. He was told by the trainer that, in that scenario, his cases would be reviewed.

“The DWP said it was unable to respond in detail to the programme’s  findings because it had not been shown a full transcript, but a spokeswoman said it was “nonsense” to suggest there were targets or expected results of any sort. She said assessors’ results were monitored to make sure they adhered to an average, adding: “If individual Atos healthcare professionals record results considerably outside the average, their work may be audited to ensure quality. If no issues are found with the quality of work, no action is taken.”

“In the footage, one of the trainers admits during a session that the auditing process makes her feel uncomfortable.”

There’s that word again – uncomfortable.

So here’s this person I know, trying to get their life back together, going through operations, experiencing pain, and this is the criteria – apparently – that assessors are using to ‘keep targets low’.

No doubt my friend will be forced back to work, ready or not, if they want to keep a roof over their head and keep eating.  No doubt the young Walker child will be expected to get some kind of low-paid demeaning job as soon as he’s old enough to talk.  And this is, of course, a good thing.

We’ll have 6,500 brand new jobs of all kinds once we build the web, and we’ll need all the low-paid cleaners, street-sweepers, graffiti-removers and tree-fellers we can get.

Damn – and I wasn’t going to mention the web.

Next week:  More definitions, and hopefully a review of all the articles the P&J and Evening Express will publish about the new granite web scandals over the secrecy of the TIF application and the radio blitzkrieg that should have never been.

PS – a true reason to be cheerful:  the Led Zeppelin 02 Concert Film ‘Celebration Day’ will finally be released.  Once it’s out, look for me in whatever cinema it’s showing in for the first few weeks at least.

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Jun 072012

Voice’s Old Susannah comments on current events and enlightens us with definitions of some tricky terms with a locally topical taste. This week, more ABZ ‘A to Z’, some ATOS, and thoughts on the sad loss of a Voice colleague. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  It’s all been happening up and down the country, and whatever you think of the Jubilee, isn’t it grand that our ConDems have got the unemployed something to do.  Not only have they apparently been given important (albeit temporary) jobs as stewards at Jubilee events, but our government employment arm has combined this great work experience with a holiday.

Lucky invitees from the ranks of the unemployed enjoyed several days in London, camping under the stars (and a tiny bit of rain) to help run Jubilee events.  I have nothing against the Jubilee itself, and it is great to see people getting back to work.

Soon some of our lazier unemployed, including MS and cancer patients, will be given suitable jobs too; all thanks to our Coalition and ATOS, the kind (foreign) organisation which assess who’s fit for work and who’s not (and gives work to absolutely all of these people anyway).

While the layabouts got to layabout in lovely tents in London, it’s come to our attention that Conservative co-chairperson MP Lady Warsi was roughing it as well.  While this frugal woman would apparently stay in cheap B&Bs or kipped on a friend’s sofa  (as befits someone of her office), she’d put in expense claims for the maximum amount allowable, and seems to have travelled to Pakistan with a relative/business partner in tow.  Result!

Nothing wrong with having a bit of an earner now and then, as long as you’re not unemployed.  Voice readers might like to know Warsi’s never won an election.  Interestingly she was a ‘community cohesion’ guru of sorts (I’ll have to define ‘community cohesion’ sometime), despite some allegations that her election material was homophobic.  It is a funny old world indeed, and we are extremely generous taxpayers.

Old Susannah was up in the lovely town of Helmsdale for a long weekend.

This pretty coastal town is missing several tricks however.  There are no concrete high-rise buildings, no development plans, and not even a ring road.  There are several grassy areas with no granite webs planned, and the seashore doesn’t have any bingo halls, amusement arcades or huge factories.  And somehow, without so much as a single shopping mall, the people were friendly, cheerful and happy.

I met a lovely man nicknamed ‘Klondike Davy’ who took me panning for gold.  I say he is nice, but one or two people in the town have ridiculed him in the past apparently.  You see, he’s given prizes for the region’s highland games in the form of the valuable gold and garnet gemstones he’s found while panning.

The criticism from a minority, quite rightly, is that he’s given valuables and his time and efforts away for nothing.  People like that, or who give money to charities, run parties in Victorian Gardens and so on just aren’t stimulating the economy and are obviously mugs.

Apparently some of the lovely schools are in the wrong place, even after all the 3Rs strategic planning and expensive consultants

We don’t need great acts of generosity, children having fun, family days in parks with music – we need to encourage businesses to come to Scotland.  This can only be done by getting scroungers to work and by building granite webs.  Perhaps in 20 years’ time people will still remember having a great day out or winning a unique, valuable gift of gold.

Or perhaps in 20 years’ time people will still remember people being generous to a fault.  I know which I think is more likely.

Before we continue with our romp through ACC’s A to Z of its spectrum of services, spare a thought for our school children.  Apparently some of the lovely schools are in the wrong place, even after all the 3Rs strategic planning and expensive consultants.  I think we should close them all down and build new ones.

But if the children aren’t busy worrying about the unending cycle of exams they are expected to take, like so many dogs jumping through flaming hoops, another worry looms.  No, not lingering asbestos in Walker Road School, now completely clear of contaminants (I’m sure).  I can reveal that Aberdeen Football Club plan to give schools more unsold/unsellable tickets for the home games.

In this heart-breaking development, inconsolable youngsters were given the news they’ll be expected to pack the empty seats.  One young person, close to tears, told Old Susannah

“It’s bad enough to know that AFC is our team and that soon we’ll build an even more empty stadium near Loirston Loch, but to actually have to sit through a match will be torture.  Not to mention the cost of a coke and burger.”   

Reports that child welfare agencies may step in are as yet unconfirmed.  A further rumour suggests unemployed might be forced to attend games – but those surveyed so far have expressed a preference for sleeping in tents in the rain along the Thames.

Finally, Willows Animal Sanctuary needs help (the government only has funds for consultants), and it was such a pleasure to see a big help arriving in the form of Paul Rodgers and wife Cynthia.
(See article – ‘Willows Name New Patrons Paul Rodgers And Cynthia Kereluc’ in this weeks issue. )

The last time Old Susannah had seen Mr Rodgers (or ‘Paul’ as he said I should call him) was in the late 1980s, backstage at a concert for the Firm (if you don’t know – you should – Tony Franklin, Chris Slade, Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers).  John Bonham’s son Jason was the opening act (if memory serves this band of his was called ‘Virginia Woolf’ – but don’t quote me).  Good times.

The couple are animal lovers to serious extremes, as I’ll describe next week.  It was a pleasure to meet them and to visit all the animals at Willows (although I did forego the exotic insects).  PS – The New Ark also could use our support.

Right – on with some more listings from the Aberdeen City Council’s matrix of services.

H is for Housing: – but to examine the city’s housing services, policies and expenditures – to say nothing of properties sitting empty – will take a bit more than a column to sort.  Consider this on hold for now.

I is for Insects: – Yes, you guessed correctly – the link takes you back to the list of extermination services mentioned last week.  I wonder if in the jungles on the equator so many insects and forms of vermin exist as must do here in Aberdeen.

J is for Jobs: – Yes, you can work for the council, and as an added bonus, the city will give you its beneficial assistance when it comes to knowing what you can and cannot complain about in public.  The city has apparently told its employees not to get involved with protests over school closures, park destruction, turning Hazelhead into a recycling centre and so on.

The city kindly warns its employees what will happen if they turn whistle-blower, yet somehow seems not to tell them in what circumstances they are meant to be whistle-blowers (as covered previously).  I would have expected to see a great deal of jobs for exterminators and pest controllers given the coverage this issue gets on the website, but no such jobs appear this week.

There are jobs for trainee planners (which may interest some of our recently unemployed ex-councillors), and indeed a few vacancies for Freedom of Information Officers – hopefully filling these FOI posts will speed things up.

K is for Kerb: – Old Susannah wondered what would pop up when I clicked on the link for kerb:  would it be a reference to the wonderful, smooth, well repaired and dog mess free kerbs we enjoy?  Would it be a reference to our former councillor who was arrested for kerb crawling?

No – there is a procedure for changing your kerb.  Do you want to go wide?  Do you want to change it?  Well, there is a dedicated person and procedure.  Sleep well tonight in this knowledge.

L is for – actually lots and lots of things: – ‘literacy and numeracy’ spring up (good to know the city is numerate, even if it can’t keep track of its millions or the employees who have embezzled hundreds of thousands over the years), as does my favourite ‘Lord Provost’ (I wonder if the new one will be as frugal – and portrait-worthy as the previous?).  L is for Local Plan, Local Development Plan, Local Transport strategy and so on.

But L is for litter.  If you’ve wondered why our streets are the envy of Europe, it’s because of our policy:-

“…it is an offence to drop or leave litter in any public place even if thrown from a vehicle. City Wardens assist the local community in maintaining a clean litter free environment and are authorised to issue Fixed Penalty Notices should the need arise.” – Aberdeen City website

Well, I doubt the need will ever arise for a warden to issue a fixed penalty notice, but if you should ever encounter the rare spectacle of someone littering – like the guy wearing a council badge (he had dark hair and a beard) last Thursday evening who put his trash in the doorway of a closed store on Union Street), then call the city, the wardens will spring into action, and the litter will be cleared away.

But that’s enough for now on the alphabet.  Time for something a bit serious and sad.

One of the Aberdeen Voice Team has passed away; you might have seen something about this on Facebook or elsewhere in the Voice.  She will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues and her family.  It was an unforeseen tragedy.

Can I please please urge anyone who is starting to be unhappy for any reason at all or dissatisfied with their life to open up about their feelings at an early stage.  There is a friend, colleague or relative who wants to help you, I promise.  They would be devastated if they lost you – believe me.   If you’re too proud or too afraid to talk to someone in your life (which is totally understandable), then talk to a counsellor.  But don’t let things get worse.

Like any problem, the best thing to do is get on top of it while it is still small.  If things are already on top of you, then I’m begging you to do something constructive about it today.

A great deal has been done to break down the outdated stigmas attached to depression and other forms of mental illness.  It is not a sign of weakness; it is not a sign of inferiority.  Above all, it is something that can be dealt with.

Whoever you are, whatever side of the political or economic divide, you are valuable, you are needed, and you have contributions to make.  Do please remember that.

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