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Friday, 7 October 2011

Derby University Accreditation Email 04-10-2011

To Paul Wilkinson, Head of Corporate Sales, p.wilkinson@derby.ac.uk
4th October 2011

Dear Mr Wilkinson,

I believe you have the lead role at the university in accrediting the Atos Disability Training course.

As I am sure you are aware, Atos and the programme it provides are the subject of heavy criticism from a wide range of charities and even from parts of Westminster.  My expertise derives from firsthand experience of three Work Capability Assessments.  The Atos conclusion was overturned for the first two and I am awaiting the results of the third.  My experiences are far from unique.

I do not mean to teach you how to suck eggs.  The effectiveness of a discrimination process (which is essentially what a WCA is) can only be judged by the number of false positives and false negatives in generates.  The scale of these falsehoods is also very relevant. 

The Atos WCA has a poor track record on both fronts. The proportion of the decisions that are reversed on appeal by either DWP or the Tribunals Service is well known.  Likewise, the cases where they have passed individuals fit for work who suffer from illnesses that are completely debilitating and even imminently terminal have also been reported.  The content of a WCA is inappropriate (it being unfit for purpose is the expression most frequently used) and the people conducting them are not well enough briefed, qualified or trained.  A recent example is the long term MS sufferer who was asked when they thought they might get better!

DWP and Atos cannot make up their minds who is responsible for what.  On the one hand, DWP has to prove there is some substance to the role of Decision Maker, but are limited by the fact that they have no medical training.  On the other hand, they cannot relinquish too much to Atos and end up with a private company effectively allocating benefit payments.

I can honestly say that whatever impression you have been given over this qualification that has allowed the request to progress this far can only have been misrepresented.  All three of my WCAs have been around 90% Q&A plus a very short, cursory examination.  Almost anyone with minimal training could have conducted the former – they are after all following a very set structure  which is largely computer driven from a multiple choice format.  Adding free-form text is possible, but actively discouraged as from the boxes ticked a  background algorithm produces recommendations.  For the latter, a couple of cursory tests (e.g. reflexes) somehow produces a detailed list of over 60 motor functions, which is impossible to believe.

I have responded to Professor Malcolm Harrington’s second call for evidence, although it did not cover all of the flaws he needs to be aware of and address.  I can only assume that somehow his feedback is being sanitised.  I am therefore in the process of summarising my experiences to send to him directly.   I would strongly suggest (with respect) that you at least shelve the suggestion until much of the controversy has been resolved.  It would not be right for a well respected academic institution to be tainted with the probable fall out from this situation.

Yours sincerely

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