Atos moves to shut down criticism

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Atos are the French IT outsourcing company whose Atos Healthcare arm have been running Work Capability Assessment for the Department of Work and Pensions.

Lots of people are unhappy about Employment Support Allowance, about the assessments, and about the way that Atos run them. There have been protests outside Atos offices using slogans such as “ATOS kills” to express their feelings. Lots of people have explained why they are unhappy with Atos in blogs, on social networks, and in support forums.

It seems that Atos don’t like this. They have started issuing legal threats, and they have succeeded in shutting down some of their opposition. Various websites and forums have spoken out against ATOS and collected personal stories about them. After ATOS first received a take down request in May 2011. Atos lawyers recently threatened legal action against Paul Smith who runs the “Atos Register of Shame” website, accusing him of libel and claiming that “This is a direct attack on Atos and the name of the website in and of itself is implying that Atos carries on its business in a manner which is shameful.” You can see a take-down letter from Atos here.  http://issuu.com/atosvictims/docs/legal_letter_from_atos?mode=a_p

They have also shut down a support forum for carers, CarerWatch, by contacting their server host directly and having it taken down. This has removed a vital support network from many carers, presumably because of private discussions about Atos in members only parts of the forum. Apparently people are not even allowed to talk about Atos now, despite needing to do so to support each other when going through tests administered by Atos.

Following this action against them, CarerWatch have published their reply to Atos, which I reproduce here. (I hope they won’t mind.)

21st Aug 2011

FAO  – ATOS Legal Department

CarerWatch is an internet forum for sick and disabled people and their unpaid family carers. This is a private forum and only members are allowed to make/read posts.

We understand from the organisation that hosts our forum that they received a letter from your solicitors threatening to sue us for libel. The provider immediately closed our site down.

We have many members who are very fragile and the sudden disappearance of a support group has caused a lot of distress and fear. Some are ringing us in tears. We cannot get in contact with all of them though as we have lost their contact details through the closure.

All this distress could have been avoided if you had had the courtesy to contact us first and tell us what had been posted on our site that you considered libellous. Obviously if any post was possibly libellous we would have removed it and all this distress could have been avoided.

We imagine this distress is unintended and hope you will work with us in looking at the problem and finding a solution.

Please note that this letter, and any reply received from yourselves, will be posted on our website. It is the only means left to us to reach some members and keep them updated.

It is vital we have our forum up and running again to reach those that are isolated.

Frances

On behalf of CarerWatch members

 

Obviously, I don’t want my website taken down. I have been careful to state only known facts here. These are the facts that I know.

  • Atos Healthcare carries out Work Capability Assessments for the DWP.
  • The contract is worth approximately £100 million per year.
  • There has been a sharp rise in people found fit for work
  • There has been a sharp rise in people appealing that decision
  • 40% of those that appeal, win, rising to 70% with legal representation.
  • Although the decision over “fit to work” lies with the DWP,a government review found that the DWP are institutionally incapable of overriding the Atos Health Care Professionals. The Atos recommendation is, in effect, the decision.
  • Atos employ Health Care Professionals to carry out the assessments. HCPs are a mix of doctors, physiotherapists and nurses. Only people with certain problems will definitely see doctors.
  • Atos use their own Lima computer system to record the patient’s answers. Lima has been widely criticised.
  • The HCP fills in Lima by choosing keywords and statements from a list and then justifying them.
  • An Atos recruiter said “We don’t call them patients . . . We call them claimants.”
  • Twelve Atos doctors are under investigation by the GMC over allegations of improper conduct.
  • Two Atos employees are under investigation after referring to patients as “parasites” and “down and outs”.
In the end, although there is much to criticise with the way that Atos carry out ESA WCAs, they may really only be doing what the government expects of them. The descriptors that are used to make the decision of whether a person is fit for work or not are set out in the by the government. (See The Employment and Support Allowance (Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity) (Amendment) Regulations 2011) I personally question whether Atos accurately records if a patient fits the descriptors or not, and their ability to do so given the way that Lima Works or the staff that are used. Even if they do make an accurate record in line with the government’s descriptors, it is questionable whether the descriptors are an accurate description of being fit for work or not. Even then, it seems that decision makers at the DWP are “institutionally incapable” of taking into account all of the relevant information for the case as they are supposed to, instead simply rubber stamping the recommendation made by Atos. It would seem that the appeals tribunals are making a fairer judgement on this issue than Atos or the DWP.
  • http://www.facebook.com/indigojo Matthew Smith

    It is actually foolish for anyone hosting any kind of discussion forum to host it in the UK, or any Commonwealth country. They don’t have carrier protection, so they are liable for anything that appears on their servers; they are vulnerable to legal threats and have no interest in supporting their customers, who after all only pay something like £5 a month. I use an American web host; libel laws there favour the defendant, not the plaintiff, and hosting companies are not liable for defamation as I understand it; only the person publishing them is.

    A few years ago I had someone from my old school contact my web host regarding something I had written about him on my blog, and after demanding that I tell them my name and address, or my solicitors’ name and address (I don’t have one, and this person refused to identify himself), he demanded that they hand over my name and address so they could “take legal action”. I warned the host that he probably intended physical violence and not to hand it over, but they said they would not hand over such details anyway and told the customer (thinking for some reason I was female) that the customer “is just exercising her freedom of speech”. As soon as the old school bully/abuser realised he was not getting my name and address, he slunk away.

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  • Holmey

    For anybody who feels that their web site is under threat from Atos or anybody else can I recommend http://www.orangewebsite.com who’s hosting comes under the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_Modern_Media_Initiative and is thus protected from legal action due to this with it being the hosting company that the Black Triangle Campaign use. 

    The Black Triangle Campaign are willing to host any web site threatened by Atos on their server and advise/help with the site transfer, please contact us through our website.

  • jaimelicious

    Honestly, I think – and dearly hope – it is too late for ATOS to cover up the way they’ve been reportedly treating claimants.

    Also haven’t noticed them serving, eg, the Guardian, with take-down orders… probably because the Guardian can afford lawyers, unlike the people they’re picking on.

    Frankly – if they’re doing nothing wrong, they should have no problem with people talking about them, and should be able to provide evidence to refute claims of maltreatment if it has not happened.

    The fact they’re instead choosing to use the legal route – but only when the person(s) they’re using it on are unlikely to be able to reply in kind – to silence commentary, says they have something to hide.

    Even the Work and Pensions Select Committee joined in the criticism – it’s too late to stop people hearing the truth, I think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimlawrence James Lawrence

    Having suffered at the hands of Atos and been shifted from EMA to JSA, despite my severe and obvious mobility problems, I am disgusted but not surprised by this campaign to silence legitimate criticism of Atos and its working practices. I hope pressure will be brought to bear upon them by those of us who have been forced to deal with them. 

  • http://www.afteratos.com/ Afteratos

    Good Article.  

  • Nick

    “Atos lawyers recently threatened legal action against Paul Smith who runs the “Atos Register of Shame” website, accusing him of libel and claiming that ”This is a direct attack on Atos and the name of the website in and of itself is implying that Atos carries on its business in a manner which is shameful.” ”

    Seems a fair point…

    Which is not to say that they don’t deserve criricism

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  • Voice of Truth

    Stop moaning about ATOS and get a job, you scroungers.

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  • http://twitter.com/Anna_Hayward Anna Hayward

    Yeah, that’ll work. Threaten people with a libel suit and everyone will stop talking about them. It’s a little like saying “Don’t think about a polar bear”. Actually, maybe I should sue someone for saying something about me? Then I could be famous! Mwahahah!

    • Cypher

      Often it does. If there are few enough people then whack-a-mole works, especially when you have a big hammer.

      Consider the parallels with the uprisings in Egypt and Iran. In Egypt, hundreds of thousands used social networks (of all kinds) to get together, hold practise events, and then overthrow the government.

      In Iran, where they were fewer and less organized, they were all shot. End of story.

  • Angelofthenorth1972

    when is carerwatch coming back?

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  • Laura Allan

    I have the print out of my Atos medical. I can say without equivocation the the statements I made were misrepresented, however, by the time I got the report I had recovered from the surgery to fix the condition causing my inability to work and was ready to try to find work, so didn’t pursue the matter further.

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  • Jason

    To avoid the litigation or takedowns I recommend that the forums or lists use servers based outside of Europe and the USA, along with registering the domain via an anonymous registration company that requires a legal notice issued by a small state with strict privacy laws. I won’t post any recommendations because I’m not advertising. but if you research it enough you’ll find the sources.

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  • Anonymous

    If all this is true then I am rather disturbed, £100m is a great deal of tax-payers money and I want it spent well. When spent on “healthcare” I want it spent with care and compassion.

  • http://twitter.com/NORBET NORBET

    I’m sorry but I don’t really buy the bit about ATOS Origin merely doing what the Government expects of them . 

    let’s just say the relationships between UNUM Provident / ATOS Origin / The DWP and the Government are very , very organic .  You have to look at these companies lobbying power , networking , targeted academic ” research ” , pseudo science justification to influence legislation in their interest . You have to look at the history of Welfare ” Reform ” over the last twenty years or so. http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/articles/rutherford07.html

    ATOS Origin & UNUM Provident  basically sell ” solutions ” to politicians from various governments , not just the British Government . British Politicians in turn sell back of a fag packet solutions to a very dumbed down media to Joe Public that is usually preoccupied with Katie Price , Nigella Lawson in the bathroom and Celebrity Big Brother , to complex and involved deep seated problems . 

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  • Dr Mengale

    Who cares for the disabled? Certainly not the uncaring ATOS employees, they seem to be biased towards benefit recipients, just like Hitler was towards the Jews. Remember them..  they started off exterminating the disabled too.

  • John Conner

    On my last Interrogation, they are not medicals in my opinion, I spent most of it asleep and although put into the work related group had to send a subject access request to get a copy of my report as the 2 calls to request the report said they hadn’t received it yet, the first was 1 week after the interrogation the second was 9 weeks after the first request, I already a letter from the DWP saying I was in the work related group, and they said they hadn’t received it yet!!!
    I had to fight to get the report as they didn’t send it with the SAR and when I read it I began to suspect why as it said I was fit for work on one page and not fit for work further on, using the phrase “In the longer term”  I asked what the phrase “In the longer term” meant earlier this year and it means that the claimant has being assessed as unfit for work for at least 2 years by ATOS. If  the DWP benefits increase letter was anything to go by then I should have being reassessed after 18 months but my claim has being continued without any reassessment so far.

    Some tricks encountered by DWP/ATOS when asking under the freedom of information is for a NINO or when pushing about the lack of a reply saying they sent a reply with a supposedly copy as an attachment, maybe this was never intended to be sent unless pressured into why no reply was forthcoming.

    One thing I always do is send a similar request to both ATOS & DWP to gauge their responses and if they send out a template reply designed to be sent by both DWP & ATOS to questions asked.

    To date I am looking forward to the next interrogation in that I am going to inform them that it will be audio recorded and it is not a request but a fact 

    • Guest

      “To date I am looking forward to the next interrogation in that I am
      going to inform them that it will be audio recorded and it is not a
      request but a fact”

      I wish you joy of your stand, but I think it will be futile. The standard tactic is for the “Health Care Professional” to leave the room, saying that they do not agree to being recorded. Some will add that what you are doing is intimidating them. You will then be told by a manager or some such that if the recording device is not turned off, then the interview will have to be terminated and that the choice is yours.

      If you refuse to turn off the device you will be entered in the log book as having refused to take part in the WCA. Your benefit will then be withdrawn and – since it was your choice – you have no right of appeal.

      Some people have had this, “you were intimidating the HCP” because they asked for the name of the HCP carrying out the tests.

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  • Brandon1975

    I had to attend an ” assessment” in Burnley lancashire last year(november) having endured 4 heart attacks .I were made to wait over a hour and a half AFTER stated appointment time in extremely cold conditions in a building, after this period I had had enough and went to the reception clerk and said ” ATOS is late ,make another appointment” the receptionist said “YOU will be deemed as NOT having attended” so I photographed the receptionist as proof of me attending ALL of a sudden my documents were “found”……I am disgusted and have to endure the same in a few weeks….the part here is that severe cold THICKENS the blood and could cause another HEART ATTACK,,,did they act with due care !!!!!! I think not ? With regards to the question of “libel” from ATOS solicitors they fail to take account of the fact that this forum is a PRIVATE forum and correct me if I am wrong but the Human Rights Act 2000 states” the right to private life BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS ( WITHOUT INTERFERENCE FROM A PUBLIC AUTHORITY eg this includes a delegated power from a public authority in this case the DWP to ATOS)….Mr Smith they havent a clue …its just big brother flexing its muscles….or should I say blowing wind (AGAIN). 

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  • Xtream_machine

    Very informative facts here, after having my wife assessed twice by ATOS its clear the HCP’s report is just an opinion which leaves great room for inaccurate reporting on a persons condition. She has been through two assessments in our home for DLA both very similar first time granted the higher rate for care, this time the lower rate. Only difference between the assessments was the HCP. Clearly they must have differing opinions but clearly one assessors opinion is wrong but ATOS don’t take any responsibility for that as they are just a ‘middle man’ arranging for a HCP to give their opinion to DWP. Putting our issues in writing to ATOS just got the response the assessment and report our sound and the report is an opinion on ability not fact… Maybe if ATOS tried to base their reports on FACT rather than opinion which they can distance themselves from their may be far less appeals correcting the HCPs errors of judgement when giving an opinion.

  • Brandon1975

    perhaps lawyers should give ATOS this advice about legal action ” all the subscribers to LATENTEXISTANCE have to do is claim it is a PRIVATE FORUM” and ATOS being a publicly appointed authority face litigation under ECHR Law ???? 

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