Written evidence submitted by Peter Higginson |
The government has appointed a private healthcare
body, Atos Origin to undertake the disability assessments of the
long-term sick from 28 February 2011.
It's important to notice that whilst these interviews
are called medicals, they are in fact functional observational
tests to determine whether claimants are telling the truth on
their ESA50 claim forms. The model for the software used on the
Atos computers is taken from insurance company interviews to disprove
the validity of a claim for disability, and the onus upon the
examiner is to discover the functionality that the claimant does
have on the day, rather than the history, testimony and description
of their illness by their GPs and Consultants.
With a fluctuating condition like schizophrenia,
a highly medicated patient will undoubtedly pass the functionality
test because the descriptors require there to be a psychotic break
in communication or evidence of harmful behaviour on the day of
the interview in order to score any points. Any testimony as to
the effects of stress, changes in mood, and the appalling nature
of the infrastructural pain of schizophrenia, is marked as not
relevant on current evidence (94% of trialled claimants were passed
fit for work).
If the patient demonstrates his psychosis however
then the session can be ruled invalid because of the failure of
the claimant to understand the process. Or it is cancelled on
safety grounds. So there is a double-bind written into
the base of the tests for the mentally ill.
Over the next three years the DWP will test 1.5 million
claimants on these grounds, of whom approximately 500,000 have
a severe and enduring mental illness. You can see how there is
a potential here for a disaster in mental health services as patients'
benefits are cut by up to 80% and they are sent to the Jobcentre
to look for work they cannot do, or that does not exist.
The danger with severe mental illness is that when
patients are faced with double binds coupled with punishing sanctions,
they naturally turn to suicide or contemplate violence as a solution
to the impossible problem.
In my own case I will almost certainly pass the medical
because I cannot demonstrate my condition without coming off the
medication and letting the psychosis I bear manifest itself. This
would represent a serious danger of harm to myself and others,
and is heavily contra-indicated by medical practice. So I am frightened
as I contemplate this problem, which actually represents a "psychotic"
proposal to the claimant.