27 September 2011
Dr Michael ChamberlainChairman, BMJ (British Medical Journal) Group Board
Andrea Spyropoulos, President,Royal College of Nursing
Dear Dr Chamberlain and Andrea Spyropoulos,
Re: Atos Healthcare and parent company Atos Origin
As sick and disabled people, carers and other concerned people, including professionals, we are writing to you to urge the Royal College of Nursing and BMJ Group to immediately end your relationship with Atos, including stopping any advertising of Atos jobs or Atos the company on your websites, and not having Atos at the RCN Bulletin Jobs Fair 13-14 September, or the BMJ recruitment fair 30 September to 1 October 2011 in London.
As you know, Atos currently has a £100m a year contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out examinations for disability benefits.
We are outraged that Atos is profiting from denying those of us who are sick or disabled, the benefits we need to survive and maintain our level of health. In May, at the protest outside Atos headquarters, a number of people spoke about our experiences of the examination, being denied benefit and having to appeal to get it back. One woman testified that her brother, who had severe depression, committed suicide after being cut off. See:
The media have exposed more of the dire consequences of Atos’ decisions. In February, the Daily Mirror highlighted the case of a Derbyshire man with a heart condition, found fit for work, who had to go through tribunal to appeal, then was awarded Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) but died of a heart attack the day before his next Atos exam was due.
A Channel 4 News report on 27 July 2011 acknowledged what thousands have been saying: it interviewed the heartbroken partner of a critically ill man whom Atos denied his entitlement on grounds that he was ‘fit for work’ – he died less than three months later. How many more people have died following such cruel and callous treatment? The coverage was prompted by a Parliamentary report from the Work and Pensions Committee of MPs, in which they criticised Atos. Atos the powerful multinational has taken vindictive action against disabled people and carers’ websites where it is criticised, getting sites closed down which isolated people rely on for support.
In August, the Guardian reported that 12 Atos doctors are under investigation by the General Medical Council for improper conduct. The article referred to numerous previous cases and investigations by other bodies.
A nurse in Scotland was so shocked at Atos’s behaviour that she blew the whistle on them. She said that people with serious lung diseases were found fit for work as long as they could sit in front of a computer, and that parents who attend with their children are automatically found fit for work. And Atos is investigating staff, one a nurse, who used their Facebook pages to insult people as “parasitic wankers” and “down and outs”.
According to DWP figures, only 6% of those who have been assessed are placed in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which exempts them from the work conditions now attached to benefit. (This 6% includes claimants whom the DWP has already exempted from the Atos examination because their condition is so serious.) http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/workingage/esa_wca/esa_wca_27072010.pdf
The Royal College of Psychiatrists and many others have strongly criticised the devastating effect the Atos exam and cuts have had on patients. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/incapacity-benefit-cuts-mental-health
GP Margaret McCartney, writing in the BMJ, has questioned the ethics of doctors performing assessments without access to patients’ medical records, and the lack of specialist knowledge of physiotherapists and general nurses employed by Atos. (BMJ 2011; 342:d599. Full article attached.)
Since 1995, when medical assessments for incapacity benefit were privatised and taken out of public services, standards have steadily declined. But Atos has brought this to a new low. While none of the work tests deserve to be called a “medical” as they have no basis in patient welfare, since Atos started carrying out the ESA tests in 2008, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people with severe illness and disability being assessed as fit for work and denied benefits.
This has been clear for some time. In 2009, ‘Who’s Cheating Who?’, a BBC Scotland documentary, highlighted the plight of June Mitchell who applied for sickness benefit. When examined by Atos, she complained of breathlessness and feeling tired. She was scored zero points and found fit for work. She went back to her GP, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died shortly afterwards.
Doctors’ and nurses’ ethics are being corrupted by Atos’ offers of higher salaries and daytime reduced work hours. Some doctors have tried to argue that their duty to patients does not apply when assessing benefit claimants on behalf of Atos. But the General Medical Council has upheld that doctors are always bound by this duty whether seeing patients, employees (when assessing occupational health), benefit and insurance claimants, athletes, among others (see attached response from the Standards & Fitness to Practise Directorate).
As doctors and nurses are enticed into privatisation, and cases of criminal negligence and even murder in hospitals and care homes hit the headlines, patients and their loved ones are increasingly speaking out against the indifference and cruelty they face at the hands of those paid to protect them.
Claimants rightly fear that most Atos assessors are uncaring and prejudiced – they work to targets which have nothing to do with patients’ individual health needs or with the realities of the job market which sick and disabled people are being thrown into. The stress of the Atos examinations has hastened deaths and caused a number of people to commit suicide. For many others, it is exacerbating their already fragile health condition.
Atos kills. Medical professionals who lend it credibility give it a licence to kill. We call on the BMJ Group and RCN to end all association with Atos, and on doctors and nurses to defend patients and uphold our welfare.
We look forward to hearing from you.
This letter ws signed by a large number of organisations and individuals. Please read more on http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/open-letter-on-atos-healthcare-to-the-bmj-and-rcn/