The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by John Heeps

Can I take this opportunity to express my outrage at a system which privatises the bureaucratic exclusion of genuine claimants for disability support to which they are entitled by virtue of their contribution to the public purse over long and productive working lives. Had I imagined that taking my particular appeal to Tribunal would mean it could be considered on its merits and not gauged against some [in the words of The Government's own advisors] "mechanical" and "not fit for purpose" process, then I would have done so, but I know full well that the nodding of sympathetic heads will not allow me to achieve some ludicrous target of 15 points based on whether I can raise at least one arm above my head and not having an aversion to using public transport.

When a daily tabloid trumpets that "75% of all claimants on disability benefit are 'scroungers' it is surely only endorsing successive Government's public spin. Clearly Atos has deemed me a 'scrounger'".

Yesterday I attended my bi-annual Oncology Clinic at The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. In passing, I related to my consultant the findings of the Atos professional who conducted my review. I told him how I had been assessed as having 70% abduction of my damaged shoulder/upper arm without the good doctor bothering to leave the comfort of his chair to actually examine me. That my consultant could only shake his head in disbelief says everything. The actual rotational ability of my shoulder struggles to make single figures. As pointed out in my appeal letter, this particular Atos professional could not tell his abduction from his elbow. Not that it would have made any difference of course. Upper limb disability and 24/7 pain is still only worth zero points. An aversion to using public transport may have gained me a point had I chosen to play that particular game—the honest don't of course. My consultant also made it clear that I was in for a lifetime of pain and discomfort that only amputation could remedy. Maybe the DWP would prefer that I agree to a lifetime regime of opiate-taking just to switch from one benefit to another.

It is a scandal that hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young adults are allowed to remain on disability benefits because successive Governments have neither the jobs, training opportunities or another world war to occupy them, whilst people like me are thrown onto JSA and told that after six months their benefit will stop. It is equally a scandal that adults who have never contributed, or contributed very little, to the public purse are granted civic parity with those who have worked long and prudent lives and who, when illness strikes before retirement, are told that their private pension pots are to be means-tested. Some incentive to plan for retirement!

If the Atos experience is one that is to be repeated within the creeping privatisation of the NHS, the beneficiaries of this brave new world will not be the "customers", but rather the shareholders based in Dubai or Boston.

March 2011



Atos Medical 27/10/2010

I wish to appeal against this decision on the grounds that:

1.    My ongoing pain and discomfort at this stage of my recovery will render me a less than effective and productive addition to the workplace.

1.1  It was made clear to the Health Care Professional (HCP) at the outset that pain was my major issue, yet this is not remarked upon in the summary. That would be understandable if there were no clinical evidence to substantiate this declaration, but there demonstrably is. My ability to squat once or lay down on the couch once were achieved in spite of the pain in my shoulder. My shoulder is in a permanent state of dislocation because there is no surgical procedure available to replace the muscle and ligament removed during surgery to enable the head of the prothesis to engage with the shoulder cuff. The most comfortable position for my arm is resting at my side or at 90 degrees to the vertical. I have been provided with a surgical harness which provides some psychological support, but in truth little that alleviates either the pain or the dislocation.

I have been assured that with time, physio and hydro-therapy that the pain will diminish as the operation heals and other muscles in the shoulder strengthen and compensate, but as my consultant says "I will have only very limited function". This disability will not prohibit a return to a career in Information Technology or indeed any office-bound occupation as there is voice-activated software available to work hands-free, pain however will. The summary states that I use a computer at home for an hour at a time, but does not say that this restriction is due to pain. My own setup is not ergonomically correct and unless the keyboard is on my lap, I am forced to type and perform other functions one-handed.

2.    The non sequitur of a final judgement upon my condition.

2.1  The judgement that "my disability amounted to a 'moderate impairment of the shoulder'" is not the logical inference that can possibly be drawn from the clinical record, my declarations as summarised by the HCP or the demonstrations of my physical difficulties.

"It was also noted that Mr Heeps had difficulty using a pen in the right [my dominant] hand, but appeared to have no difficulty getting out and handling papers with both hands".

What is being said here? If the writer is stating that the latter activity in some way qualifies the degree of difficulty of the prior activity and of the shoulder, it is a misdirection. I can use my lower limb, elbow to fingers. I can remove and insert papers in an inside jacket pocket as long as the hand is not required to reach head height. Writing, and using the lower arm for other restricted activities are entirely different. As I have discovered, writing is primarily a shoulder movement. As demonstrated to the HCP this involved a clumsy mechanical performance of physically lifting the right arm by the wrist onto the paper and guiding it across the page. This describes "difficulty using a pen".

The HCP seems to have come up with the equation:

functioning elbow + non-functioning shoulder [zero directional rotation]

= "moderate impairment of right shoulder"

This inference was either a moment of temporary illogicality or my integrity was being questioned. I'd rather it were the first.

Typed by Laura Jayne Heeps

Dictated and verified by John Heeps

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Prepared 26 July 2011