Brady concerned about sickness benefits

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Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Newry Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady has commented on a recent article carried in the Guardian newspaper which states that Atos, the private healthcare company which performs controversial sickness benefit assessments, has confirmed that all its medical staff are required to sign the Official Secrets Act. Brady, who is Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on welfare entitlements, described this news as ‘extremely worrying’ and said that it placed Atos staff in an unenviable position. “Atos is a private company”, Brady said, “They are currently in receipt of a staggering £100 million a year from the British government to carry out work capability assessments to decide whether or not claimants are eligible for sickness benefit. Since this process began last April my constituency office in Newry has been inundated with queries from people who were in receipt of sickness benefits but who have now failed their Atos assessment, despite no improvement in their medical condition. Atos staff who carry out these assessments are not required to have ay medical background at all and many of my constituents I have spoken to have described the assessment as a ‘tick box’ exercise with assessors galloping through a series of pre determined questions such as ‘can you lift a pound coin’?” Brady continued, “In up to 40% of these cases the initial decision is actually reversed at appeal, in cases where the client is accompanied by a representative from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau this figure jumps to around 60%. I believe this brings the competency of the Atos staff and the entire system itself into question. This revelation that Atos medical staff must sign the Official Secrets Act leads me to fear that Atos workers would be extremely reluctant to voice any concerns about flaws in the system.” “I don’t think this is good enough. The assessment process should be as straightforward and transparent as possible and I urge Atos to examine the overall sickness benefit assessment process and in the immediate term to remove this draconian stipulation on Atos healthcare staff,” he added.
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