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.
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”.