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Sunday, 4 December 2011

THE ATOS “INDEPENDENT” (Ho ho) TIER

For anyone who is progressing a WCA complaint through Atos and reached level 3 and the so-called “Independent Tier”, you might find the following notes helpful.

You will get the impression that rather like the Tribunals Service, there is a panel of experts who adjudicate in some form of hearing.  Apparently not so – it just involves two individuals: one who looks just at the way the complaint has be handled by Atos, the other looks just at the medical exactitude of the WCA.  They work independently and never meet.  Any suggestion that the hearings can be observed is therefore fallacious and gives the impression of a much more substantial arrangement than really exists.

It is absurd to insist on the fact that they are independent when, on Atos’s 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.
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 cannot 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 be 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 it should 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)      DWP continues to insist that in principle that the IT’s impartiality is only secure through anonymity, which is hugely worrying in a democratic society, supposedly built on transparency and the principle of public accountability.  The Tribunal & legal systems work OK in the open, so why not the IT too? 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 the FoI Act for ever so this needs something more direct.  Personally, I’m not convinced there is any deliberately established bias going on here and it is more a case that DWP is embarrassed by how flaky the whole IT arrangement is – a couple of blokes sifting through piles of papers whilst watching telly over the weekend??????

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

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