Disabled activists are planning a new wave of protests aimed at the company paid to carry out controversial “fitness to work” tests on behalf of the government.
Atos Healthcare has been targeted repeatedly by campaigners over the accuracy of its assessments, the way it treats disabled benefits claimants, and the generosity of its contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The protests will take place across the UK on 30 September – many of them led by disabled people – with the most prominent likely to be outside a recruitment fair being run by the BMJ [formerly the British Medical Journal]in Islington, north London.
Atos is one of the private sector healthcare companies that has taken a stand at the careers fair at the Business Design Centre, where it will be seeking to recruit new doctors to carry out the hated work capability assessments (WCA) on disabled claimants.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which plans to take part in the BMJ protest, said: “It is important to target recruitment because we think people should know who they are going to work for and what disabled people think about them, and hopefully it will put them off working for Atos.”
Claire Glasman, a spokeswoman for WinVisible, the disabled women’s organisation, which will also be taking part in the BMJ protest, said: “Their association with the BMJ gives Atos medical credibility that they do not deserve.
“The decisions they make are nothing to do with patient welfare, they are exactly the opposite. We would like the BMJ to disassociate themselves from Atos.”
In May, three Atos Healthcare executives were asked by MPs to explain why their organisation was so “feared and loathed” by disabled people, while DWP research found that “negative reports of the tone, manner or approach” of Atos assessors were “reasonably common”.
In his independent review of the WCA – which assesses eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – Professor Malcolm Harrington said widespread complaints about Atos staff “must be taken seriously”, and criticised “poor decision making and a high rate of appeals”.
About two-fifths of appeals against a decision to find someone “fit for work” are successful, with one welfare rights organisation reporting a success rate of 96 per cent when it represents claimants at their appeals.
The General Medical Council confirmed last week that it is investigating complaints against seven doctors employed by Atos.
24 August 2011