MPs’ report vindicates DNS investigation into Atos PIP contract


newslatestA government contractor appears to have used “incorrect and potentially misleading” information to win disability assessment contracts worth nearly £400 million, according to a committee of MPs.

The public accounts committee used evidence provided by Disability News Service (DNS) to make the claims in a report published today (Friday) on the implementation of the new personal independence payment (PIP).

The concerns were first raised in a joint investigation by DNS and the disabled journalist Richard Butchins.

DNS supplied the committee’s chair, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, with the tender document used by Atos to win the contract, as well as copies of news stories run by DNS.

And in March, Butchins briefed Hodge on the scandal before her committee grilled Lisa Coleman, an Atos senior vice president.

Hodge said today: “We are concerned that Atos appears to have included incorrect and potentially misleading information in its bid for the contract.

“Atos stated in its tender document that it had ‘contractual agreements’ in place with a national network of 56 NHS hospitals, 25 private hospitals and over 650 physiotherapy practices to provide assessments. This turned out not to be true.

“The [Department for Work and Pensions] should challenge claims made in bids, so that it can demonstrate it has not relied on inaccurate or exaggerated information when awarding contracts.”

She added: “We would have expected the department to have exercised particular caution in letting this contact, given the poor performance of Atos on work capability assessments.

“The department must take into account previous performance on similar work when running a procurement.”

DNS had passed concerns to the committee about the way the company won the contract to assess PIP claimants across London and the south of England.

Atos had boasted of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the PIP tests would take place.

But in the months after the contract was awarded, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.

Atos had stated in the tender that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England, but after the contract was signed, it only managed to secure 96 assessment centres, including not a single one covering a vast sweep of north London, and only one in Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire.

Because there are so many fewer centres, thousands of disabled people are facing delays in being assessed, and longer and more complicated journeys to reach their assessments, often by inaccessible public transport.

Butchins told DNS: “It’s good to see that the results of our long and thorough investigation into the tender bid by Atos for PIP have finally been taken seriously by parliamentarians and that the public accounts committee have taken on board the fact that private providers will promise things they cannot deliver in order to gain multi-million pound contracts and that the DWP will collude in this sort of ‘snake oil’ salesmanship.

“The people who suffer are the poor and vulnerable when they are perceived as either a burden on the public purse or a revenue stream by corporations.”

20 June 2014