Follow by Email

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Atos "Independent" Tier - does it really exist?

CMMS at DWP is giving me the usual run around over a perfectly legitimate question, the answer to which is very much in the public interest.

The first issue is over their insistence that the Atos(AH) IT is independent despite, on their own admission:

1)      AH know who they are and I do not.  I am not even sure DWP knows.
2)      “AH will determine whether a referral to the Independent Tier is appropriate” (a quote from the Atos complaints manual).
3)      “The (AH) Team Leader will determine the nature of any corrective action appropriate”  from IT conclusions. (ditto).
4)      “The Independent Tier will not provide views or judgements to any person outside AH” (ditto).
5)      “IT results will be published in an approved format”, but nowhere does it say approved by whom or what this format is.
6)      Only the AH convenor can communicate with IT and arrange any contact or obtain additional guidance (paraphrased).
7)      DWP says it has no idea what (if any) contractual or commercial arrangements exist between AH and the IT.  Any costs associated with use of the IT are not directly charged to DWP so must affect Atos profit margins – undoubtedly an incentive to use it as little as possible with the obvious impact through (a) above.
8)      There is no competitive tendering process for selection of the IT – Atos appoint who they like.
9)      DWP will not even disclose the nature of the IT’s business and so cannot demonstrate they have any qualifications, experience or credentials to adjudicate in this area.
10)   Because of the secrecy, DWP conclusively prove that any of the processes it describes actually exist.
11)   There are no detailed documents listing the exact criteria the IT assesses so it is impossible to judge what job they are doing let alone how effectively they do it.  The Atos Complaints manual refers to the IT checking against “agreed processes”, but NOT what they are.  There is a very detailed WCA manual giving guidance to HCPs, but there is no confirmation in anything you have sent me that even this forms part of the IT’s ToR when investigating a complaint.   There must ba some form of template to ensure consistency.
12)   Following on from 11), the only reference to service levels requires AH to acknowledge complaints within 2 working days and fully answer complaints within 4 weeks, but the latter is only a “hope” rather than a firm commitment.  What does the IT judge against?  What about the fact that for me they took well over 4 weeks and even then did not address all of the points I had raised?  What about all of the correspondence with Atos since – what response times must they adhere to with these?
13)   Although DWP says claimants receive copies of everything Atos provides to the IT, nobody can independently prove this is the case.
14)   Likewise, nobody can prove that IT adjudications are not edited prior to publication.
15)   Informal contact between Atos and the IT is perfectly possible.

The second disgrace is over the secrecy which is a far bigger issue than many might imagine.  CMMS has indicated two reasons:

1)      The Atos/DWP contract apparently requires the identity of the IT to be kept secret and DWP claims there will be commercial implications (unspecified) if they breach this clause.  Obviously very stupid to allow this to be in the contract and I have pointed out that the contract must therefore be renegotiated to allow disclosure.  Carefully done there is no reason why it should have any financial consequences, so this is just a smoke-screen.
2)      They are still insisting in principle that the IT’s impartiality is only secure through anonymity, which I have said before is hugely worrying in a democratic society, supposedly built on transparency and the principle of public accountability.  I have drawn the obvious comparisons with our Tribunal & legal systems so far to no avail.  I’m sure they can see the contradictions and outright hypocrisy, but will not budge.

For 2), I can accept the contractual constraint as a short term barrier, but nothing else.  CMMS will hide behind DoIA for ever so this needs something more direct.  How about you ask a question of one of the front benchers (CG, ID-S or even DC himself) formally in the house so it requires a written answer.  The question needs to be carefully worded to eliminate wriggle-room.  I’m happy to help with this. 

This secrecy should be a great worry to all political parties except perhaps any hard line communists and fascists.

No comments: