A disabled woman who claims she lost the use of her last kidney because of harassment from her local jobcentre during an emergency blood transfusion is taking legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Lawyers for Annemarie Campbell will this week issue a claim for damages against DWP under the Equality Act, claiming discrimination, and possibly also harassment and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Campbell was receiving the blood transfusion in February when her jobcentre called her on her mobile phone to ask when she would be well enough to attend a back-to-work interview.
She had told the jobcentre in central London only the previous day that she would be in hospital for an emergency transfusion, and that she was seriously ill and awaiting a second kidney transplant.
But she says the jobcentre still hounded her while she lay hooked up to life-saving medical equipment in an emergency renal ward of Hammersmith Hospital.
A member of the jobcentre’s staff phoned her and asked when she could attend her work-focussed interview. When Campbell told her she was in the middle of a blood transfusion, the adviser asked her if she could fetch her consultant.
Campbell said: “When I was getting the blood transfusion it was trying to prolong my kidney and make me live a bit longer.
“I was on the phone being upset all the time, constantly trying to explain myself. They were pushing me to go back to work, constantly phoning me and writing to me.”
Five days after the transfusion, she told her consultant that she was going back to work, as a result of the DWP harassment.
But he told her she could not possibly consider working because her life was “on a knife edge”, and he wrote to the jobcentre to explain the seriousness of her medical condition.
She has now lost the use of her last working kidney, which she received in a transplant in 1995, and is convinced that the stress of the jobcentre harassment speeded up that process.
Campbell said: “In the end, because of the harassment and the stress they put me under, I lost my kidney. I was harassed and harassed and harassed and now they have broken me.”
She had been forced to reapply for employment and support allowance (ESA) last autumn after her health deteriorated.
Atos Healthcare – the company that assesses “fitness for work” – told her she would not need a face-to-face assessment and would be placed straight into the support group, for those who do not need to take steps to return to work.
But DWP’s own decision-makers placed her instead in the work-related activity group (WRAG), which meant she would need to attend work-focused interviews, even though she made it clear that she had a job to go back to – she does legal agency work – when she was well enough.
Campbell is currently receiving dialysis for 12 hours a week and is back in the support group, but is now facing yet another reassessment of her fitness for work in September.
She said: “I am taking legal action for my dignity and self-respect and right to treatment, but also for other people who are more vulnerable than I am.
“I want people to see what this jobcentre is doing and how we are being treated and what’s happening to us. I want to see changes to the way people are treated by the DWP.”
Frances Lipman, a public lawyer with Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors, who is representing Campbell, said her client had been treated with “absolutely no regard to her personal circumstances”.
“She was telephoned while undergoing a medical procedure. She had warned the DWP just the day before that she was going into hospital and had received an assurance that no-one would contact her.
“All that seems to matter to the DWP is that their employment and support allowance claimants do this work-focused interview, regardless of their personal circumstances.
“It is an affront to Annemarie’s dignity as a human being that they did not try to make an adjustment to interview her at an alternative time.”
Lipman added: “We don’t know yet whether this is institutionalised practice within the DWP or whether it was just a particular member of staff.
“I know Annemarie would very much like an apology from them. That is more important to her than the damages. She wants her voice to be heard and for them to acknowledge what has happened to her.”
DWP has denied any harassment, and says the phone call “was pre-arranged as it would be for anyone in the WRAG who informs us they can’t make an appointment in person”.
It claims Campbell arranged for the jobcentre to call her about the work-focused interview on the day she was in hospital, but that she had warned that she might not be available because of the treatment.
Campbell says this is “absolute rubbish”, and that she simply told them she was “really unwell” and that they could call her consultant the next day if they did not believe her.
25 July 2013