Staff working for a discredited benefit assessments contractor threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).
Atos has now launched an investigation into what happened at the assessment centre in Leeds, which saw the nurse abandon Kris Weston’s assessment after just a couple of minutes.
She did not realise that Weston, a composer and trained sound engineer, had been recording the assessment.
Weston began the assessment last month by telling the nurse that he had stayed up all night because of the extreme anxiety he experiences when he has to deal with institutions.
He had spent three days putting together a 10-page description of his complex mental health problems – and what he says is the “continual failure to even listen to his problems by multiple institutions” – in the hope that the assessor would help him secure the financial and health support he needed.
He explained that he had been unfairly described in the past as “violent” by the NHS after a telephone argument, although she told him that Atos had no record of this.
She appears to have wrongly blamed the decision to refuse him a home assessment on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), when such decisions are taken by the assessment companies, Atos and Capita.
The assessor can then be heard leaving the room after Weston began asking about her experience and qualifications in mental health.
She told Weston that she was “not happy to sit in this room with you” because she said he had questioned her qualifications and was “being difficult for no reason”.
Weston, who did not raise his voice or threaten the assessor at any point in the conversation, told her: “You seem to have had a bit of an attitude from the start, a bit of a blasé attitude.
“You didn’t look at me, you didn’t say hello to me, you didn’t treat me like a human.”
Despite the lack of any aggression or threats from Weston, a colleague of the assessor then told him he needed to leave the building “or we’ll call the police”, before repeating: “We’ll call the police if you don’t leave.”
Weston tried to explain to Atos staff that he had “wanted to make sure that somebody understands my illness” and added: “When ill people come in you need to have compassion, not treat them with an attitude.”
A third member of staff then denied that they had threatened to call the police, before a colleague said: “He’s just wanting an argument… just shut the door.”
Weston told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “It seems like an outrageous scandal that someone in the pits of despair, when they are asking for help, gets treated like this.
“I am quite a complex person. I just wanted to make sure the person in front of me was able to deal with it properly and had the correct qualifications.
“I was actually trying to get help. I really do want help. Mental illness help should not just be for the polite who stay quiet.”
He said he had felt severely distressed and “isolated” after the assessment, but after posting the recording online he has been flooded with supportive comments on social media.
He said: “The recording represents not just me, but the hundreds of stories I have heard in only a few days since I put this on the internet, all the people that have told me their awful stories that they didn’t record.
“I thought my recording would stand out as abuse but it’s actually just a blip in a sea of negligence that no private company will ever fix because corporations cannot have inherent morals and no amount of legislation is going to stop them from cutting corners for profit.
“The staggering scale of the problem is more than I anticipated, to say the least. This is in fact a nationwide scandal affecting our people now.
“I’m not that far off being an economic and cultural asset to my country if I could just get a clear run and be understood without being beaten down over and over again and driven to despair.
“This applies to a lot of people. We are holding ourselves back by keeping people in complete stress about their food, living space and other basic human needs.
“Given the resources they need, people who are suffering from the system itself could actually become an asset.
“After all, injecting our resources into a failing private banking system seemed to get them back on their feet.
“To think the people charged with running our country could miss this economic no-brainer is breathtaking.”
Asked for an explanation for what happened and whether Atos would apologise, a spokesman for the company said: “We are aware of the recording and an investigation is underway.”
Weston’s experience has added to years of evidence collected by DNS and other journalists, campaigners and politicians of dishonesty, unprofessional behaviour and harsh treatment delivered to benefit claimants by Atos assessors.
In one case, reported in January by DNS, an Atos nurse carrying out a PIP assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away.
In February, DNS reported how more than 160 Atos assessors had had at least four complaints about their behaviour, competence and honesty made against them in three-month periods in 2016.
And in June, DNS reported how a doctor working for Atos told a gay disabled man she was assessing that his sexuality meant he was “defective” and that God needed to fix him like a “broken” car.
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