Nurse makes heartfelt apology after Atos forced her to trick disabled people out of benefits
Thursday, 27 September 2012A nurse has revealed how her own life was ruined after under-fire benefits firm Atos forced her to “trick” disabled people out of cash.
Joyce Drummond’s medical training meant she knew claimants were unfit to work.
But she was told to mark people as fit if they could write or show up for an interview properly dressed. Eventually, Joyce was carpeted by bosses for being “too nice” to claimants.
After five months, she was signed off with stress caused by “having to trick sick people out of their benefit”. She quit in July 2009 and hasn’t worked since.
Joyce said candidates were marked down if they:
*looked well-presented, with neat hair and make-up.
*turned up with a toddler.
*could sign the application form.
Public fury is growing against Atos, who have assessed thousands of people with terminal illnesses as fit for work.
And thousands with genuine chronic conditions have been dragged over the coals repeatedly by their inquisitors.
Mum-of-one Joyce, from Mosspark, Glasgow, said Atos decision makers paid no attention to her professional clinical opinion and were only interested in cutting down the number of claimants.
She reveals all the questions she was told to ask were loaded.
Joyce said: “I stopped working for Atos three-and-a-half years ago but I still feel sick every time I think of those people deemed fit for work, when they quite clearly were incapable of doing so.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart to all those people I had to assess during my five months in the job but the decisions were out of my hands.
“Once I realised how manipulative the assessment system was, I got out immediately. The stress of it all made me ill and I have not worked since.”
Joyce, who worked as a staff nurse at the city’s Southern General for more than 20 years, added: “I only took the job so I could help vulnerable people get the benefits they needed.
“But it wasn’t long before I realised no one cared about my professional clinical opinion. It broke my heart and I went home in tears every night.
“People trusted me as a nurse and they confided in me. I felt I was having to stab them in the back.”
Joyce said many claimants were set up for a fall even before they came into her office in Cadogan Street, Glasgow.
She said: “If they made it in by themselves, that was seen as a sign they could function.
They also had to fill in a form. If they did it, it showed they could think, write and were capable of managing.
“We also had to assess their appearance. If a woman was wearing make-up and was nicely dressed, she was deemed as functioning and capable.
“If someone came in with a toddler in tow, they were doomed because if they could manage a child, they could surely work.
“If someone had a pet, they were able to function and if they smiled while talking about a pet, I had to mark down that they smiled spontaneously and were therefore not depressed.
“It was so unfair. There could be a very depressed or ill person sitting in front of me but on paper, thanks to the leading questions I had to ask, they could be judged fit to work.”
Joyce says Atos bosses expected assessors to get through 10 cases in a day and reprimanded her for being too nice. She said: “It was impossible to do 10 a day as each claimant had a 44-minute slot. The medical director called me in one day and told me I was too nice.
“I never found out how the decisions went but when I was doing the interview, I knew what the outcome would be.
“Atos went by the philosophy that if you had a finger and could push a button, then you could work. Ridiculous.”
Last week, a Panorama documentary revealed that each week between January and August last year, 32 people died who the Government had declared could be helped back into work.
Appeals against decisions are costing the Government £50million a year.
Atos have a £206million contract from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The leader of the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee pledged to dig deeper into the Atos scandal. Labour MSP Michael McMahon said: “There are serious questions about how Atos manage work and the growing reports of how they have caused distress to so many vulnerable people.
“Whistleblowers have an important part to play in showing just how these reforms are hurting those in genuine need. My committee will continue to investigate the workings of Atos.”
Atos last night defended their role in the benefits process. A spokeswoman said: “Our trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists use their clinical knowledge and apply the Government’s policy and criteria to each assessment.
“They make no decisions on benefit entitlement and look at each case on an individual basis.
“We understand that applying for benefit can be a difficult time which is why we try to make the part of the process we’re responsible for as comfortable as possible.”