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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Thousands of disabled Scots are to be spared Atos assessments after a “humiliating climbdown” by the firm.


Atos had been set to rake in up to £40million of taxpayers’ money assessing Scots for the new personal independence payment, which will replace disability living allowance starting next year.


But after a Record campaign against their methods, they have now agreed to subcontract the work to an NHS “social enterprise” who will handle all PIP assessments north of the border.


We have been telling the stories of vulnerable Scots who were denied benefits after “humiliating” Atos assessments.


Politicians and campaigners congratulated us last night for helping to force the French company into retreat.


And dad-of-three Peter Leckie, who lost 11 weeks of benefit after an Atos assessment despite not being able to walk more than 30 feet, said: “This is great news.


“The quicker we get rid of that shower, the better.


“I take my hat off to the Record for standing up for ordinary people and giving them a voice. Now we are seeing it make the difference.


Labour MP Tom Greatrex, a leading campaigner on the assessments scandal, said: “This is a humiliating climbdown by Atos.


“By subcontracting this work to the NHS, Atos are effectively acknowledging that the public don’t trust them to do the assessments fairly.”


A spokesman for Citizens Advice Scotland added: “We have always said the system is unfit for purpose. It is good to see that the campaign by the voluntary sector and the Daily Record is having some effect.”


Atos will continue to carry out “work capability assessments” in Scotland for employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit.


But the PIP assessments due to begin next June will now be done by Salus, the occupational health arm of NHS Lanarkshire. Atos signed a £22million deal for the work with Salus last week.


Salus are a social enterprise, with profits from outside contracts ploughed back into patient care.


NHS Lanarkshire promised yesterday: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone assessed is treated with dignity and receives a professional service.


“It will be delivered in a compassionate and transparent manner, supported by robust governance.”


But Atos remain involved as holders of the overall contract for the assessments.


And Greatrex warned: “We need reassurance from Atos that the views of experienced NHS doctors and nurses will be given sufficient weight, rather than being dismissed as often happens with work capability assessments.”


Atos have denied claims that the Con-Dems have given them targets to help get a set number of people off benefits.


A company spokeswoman said the Salus deal was “a new approach, working in partnership with NHS Lanarkshire”.


She added: “It means PIP consultations will take place where people feel most comfortable – in the heart of their local community.


“They will be conducted by health practitioners with first-class expertise in dealing with the needs of disabled people.”


Atos refused to say how much profit they will make from the new arrangement.


The Scottish Government said they had “ongoing concerns” about the effect of Atos’s work on poor and vulnerable Scots.


Ministers would “continue to keep an eye on the impact of UK welfare reform on Scotland’s citizens”.


Atos have been widely condemned for their approach to assessing the sick and disabled.


Crawford Leask, a mortgage broker forced to give up work by two prolapsed discs in his neck, was asked at his assessment whether he could write.


He also told how the assessor effectively called him a liar by claiming his condition was unlikely to cause his symptoms.


Scots-based Royal Marine Aaron Moon, 25, was declared fit for work after losing a leg in Afghanistan. The Atos assessor asked him to point at his non-existent right foot, then asked if he could move his toes.


Aaron replied: “I’ve no leg.”


We told the story of former Atos nurse Joyce Drummond, who claimed bosses made her “trick” disabled people out of benefits. She said she was told to mark people as fit if they could write or were properly dressed.


And we revealed secret official figures which showed that 55 per cent of Atos victims in a 2009 survey were left without any income after being declared “fit for work”.


The Daily Record