From Job Centre Plus:
“Thank you for your e-mail of 3 August.
We have asked Atos to provide facilities for recording assessments when requested by a claimant and will make reasonable endeavours to meet all requests.
Claimants should make their requests for recording to Atos directly. This is so that Atos can make an appointment when the necessary equipment is available.
ln order to accommodate the request within a reasonable timescale a claimant may be asked to attend a Medical Examination Centre (MEC) that is not the one nearest to their home address. Claimants would not be expected to travel to a MEC where this involves a one way journey of more than 90 minutes.
Requests for recording of assessments can only be agreed with the prior consent of the healthcare professional (HCP), and when approved recording equipment is used. This is to ensure that stringent safeguards are in place to produce recordings that are complete, accurate and that the facility provides for simultaneous duplicate copies to be made available to both the claimant and the HCP.
lf a claimant wishes to record an assessment using their own equipment the HCP will offer to reschedule the assessment for another day when Atos recording equipment is available' lf claimants refuse to cooperate and continue to record the assessment the HCP will terminate the assessment. The assessment will also be terminated if it is discovered that covert recording is taking place.
We are currently looking at ways to improve the availability of audio recording in the short term. I note that your next assessment is scheduled for September 2013. Should any further information regarding recordings be available prior to that date I will ensure that you receive details.
I have received your letter dated 14th August and it is hard to know what to say as it does not address the issues that now arise from this sudden change in approach. It contains new policies that will affect me personally which you do not publicise and it is important that they are as widely known about as possible.
Clearly in raising the possibility of an “indefinite” delay, DWP has no confidence in Atos’s ability to effectively manage a really quite simple operational requirement. It likewise has no confidence in its own ability to make sure that it does. What exactly do you mean by “reasonable”, who will decide and exactly what steps will DWP take to make sure Atos achieves it? I cannot see why this is so difficult – each MAC already has a range of equipment from stethoscopes to PCs that are in regular use and require maintenance and repairs from time to time. This is just one more such item. The NAO has recently heavily criticised DWP’s management of the Atos contract and we have yet another example here.
Given the seriousness of these issues, I would like to give you the opportunity to perhaps “clarify” some of the statements you have made here before passing this information on. The main issue is that you are legally bound to treat all claimants equally and not exercise any form of discrimination, so when I ask for a recording and Atos says “sorry, no equipment available” how will they be able to prove they are not discriminating against me personally, particularly as I have already been singled out for “special” treatment? This requirement is echoed in both the DWP Service Charter and the Civil Service Code and you simply cannot ignore all 3 mandates.
A commitment to no more than “reasonable endeavours” is a recipe for wholesale abuse by denying the facility for no good reason and introducing inconsistency from one claimant to another. You cannot promise that this will not take place as you will have no evidence one way or the other. Chris Grayling himself promised in the HoC that recording would be available to anyone asking for it and I do not believe you are at liberty to countermand his assurance. If he has done this himself, please point me to where this is recorded.
1) You talk about “approved” recording equipment – approved by whom (presumably the claimant as well as DWP/Atos) and to what standard?
2) My own digital recorder has a USB socket. What is wrong with uploading a copy of the audio file to an Atos PC immediately after the WCA? This is no different in practice to dual recording.
3) It is a little rich for you to accuse claimants of refusing to “cooperate” if they are in a position where they requested audio recording but no equipment was available and Atos will not delay the appointment until it is. Their choice would be to go ahead with no recording or risk having their ESA payments affected because they are deemed to have caused the delay. Does that sound fair to you?
4) A three hour journey for someone in poor health is an outrageous suggestion and most certainly not reasonable.
5) You cannot have it both ways by not explaining all of the nuances to claimants in advance and then penalise them for falling foul of a rule they knew nothing about.
You have judged all 3 of my WCAs wrongly initially. In each case, most of the problem was due to the fact that the HCP did not record or interpret what I said accurately which was subsequently proven. In each case both Atos and DWP refused to consider any information that they considered to be a difference between my recollection and the HCP’s recollection of events that could not be substantiated. Recording has the ability to eliminate all such disputes. If you will not provide the equipment to record a session and will not allow me to use my own, what other arrangements will you make? If you refuse, I will insist on transcribing the entire session verbatim in long-hand and asking the HCP to sign it. Presumably they can have no objection, please confirm. Note that they themselves are effectively making a transcript through LiMA and do not offer me the facility to check it prior to circulation. What basis do you have for trusting the HCP more than me?
Please address this point by point – I have highlighted key questions for your convenience.