‘Fit for work’ assessor suspended for describing examination that did not take place

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An occupational therapist who carried out a “misleading” benefit assessment has been suspended for a year after regulators found she reported carrying out a physical examination of a disabled man that did not take place.

Paru Vekaria has shown no remorse over the incident, in which she stated in a written report for government contractor Maximus that she had carried out a detailed physical examination of the claimant.

But both the claimant – referred to as Service User A – and his daughter, who attended the work capability assessment (WCA) with him, said no such examination had taken place.

As a result of her “misleading” report, Service User A was found fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and so ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA).

DWP later rubber-stamped the decision through the mandatory reconsideration process, and it was only at an appeal tribunal eight months later that the decision was overturned and Service User A was found eligible for ESA.

But despite the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) conduct and competence committee agreeing last week that no physical examination had taken place during the assessment in October 2016 – and concluding that the report contained “a high degree of misleading information” – they did not find that the assessor had behaved dishonestly.

Vekaria claimed she could not remember the assessment and so the panel concluded that it had “no evidence as to what state of mind led to her producing an inaccurate and misleading report”.

Hundreds of disabled people have come forward over the last 18 months to tell Disability News Service (DNS) how assessors working for Atos and Capita have written dishonest personal independence payment assessment reports, while many others submitted evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee alleging dishonest WCAs carried out by Maximus assessors.

The HCPC committee said it had treated the evidence given by Service User A at last week’s hearing “with caution” because he appeared “very driven in pursuing this matter”, had told them how he felt “humiliated” by what had happened, and had used phrases in his evidence such as “that’s how they catch you out”.

His daughter told the committee – mirroring evidence from scores of claimants who have reported similar incidents to DNS and elsewhere – that Vekaria said a physical examination was not necessary because she could see her father was in too much pain.

Four other claims that Vekaria had not reported what she was told during the assessment accurately were found “not proven” by the committee.

But the committee said that “in a number of respects, the information [Vekaria] included in the report was wrong”.

It said she had “demonstrated no insight into the shortcomings in her practice”, had shown no “expressions of remorse” and had not acknowledged the impact of her actions on Service User A.

Vekaria, who is not currently working as an occupational therapist, was told that her registration would be suspended for a year.

She worked for Maximus for more than two years and did not leave until July last year, four months after Service User A lodged a complaint against her with HCPC.

A Maximus spokesman said: “As we never received a complaint from either the customer or the HCPC regarding this matter, no investigation was undertaken at the time.

“However, it is our understanding that the former staff member was suspended by HCPC following a complaint about an assessment conducted during their time with us.

“We take our responsibility to provide an accurate service extremely seriously, and so we apologise that this report did not meet our standards.

“Our priority continues to be to deliver high-quality, respectful and fair assessments for all our customers.”

Asked whether it would check on the accuracy of the other assessment reports completed by Vekaria now it had been made aware of the committee’s findings, he said: “We will review the report from the HCPC in detail and seek a meeting with them to discuss any issues arising from this case.”

Picture: Maximus offices in London