A disabled woman awaiting a second kidney transplant was “harassed” by her local jobcentre during an emergency blood transfusion, because they wanted to know when she would be well enough to attend a back-to-work interview.
Annemarie Campbell says the jobcentre in central London knew she was in hospital, and that she was seriously ill, but still hounded her while she lay hooked up to life-saving medical equipment in an emergency renal ward of Hammersmith Hospital last Friday (8 February).
Campbell, who has end-stage renal failure, described her treatment by jobcentre staff as “inhumane, discriminatory and degrading”.
She had received a letter from the jobcentre asking her to attend a work-focussed interview on 8 February.
She called a manager at the jobcentre on 7 February, and told him she was seriously ill and had to be in hospital the next day for an emergency transfusion.
She was told they would phone her again in a few weeks. Instead, she received a call the next day from a member of the jobcentre’s staff, who said: “It’s just to ask you when you can attend the interview. Can somebody not tell you when you are going to be released?”
When Campbell said she was hooked up to medical equipment for the transfusion of six pints of blood, the woman asked her to find out from her consultant when she would be well enough to leave hospital.
Campbell, a former civil servant, from west London, is now considering legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), while she says her consultant is writing a letter of complaint.
She said the experience left her in tears throughout the following weekend, and that her consultant had now told her she could not continue her studies or take part in a work placement because her life was “on a knife edge” due to the extra stress.
She said: “What happened has made me more ill. They have screwed up my treatment and won’t get off my back.
“I have been stripped of my dignity. It has made me feel as if my disability is being used as a stick to beat me with.
“What if I don’t get a transplant? Are they going to punish me? I don’t need a job, I need a kidney.”
Campbell is also angry because she has told the jobcentre she already has a job to go back to when she is well enough – she does legal agency work – and is desperate to return to employment and her part-time university course.
Her problems began in 2009, after she had to appeal against being found fit for work and ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA).
She eventually won her appeal and was placed in the ESA support group – for those not expected to do any work-related activity – but returned to agency work when her condition improved.
Her health deteriorated again, and she was forced to reapply for ESA last autumn.
When Atos Healthcare – the company that assesses “fitness for work” – heard how ill she was, and saw a letter from her GP, she was told she would not need a face-to-face assessment and would be placed straight into the support group.
But three weeks ago, she was called by her local jobcentre to say the DWP’s own decision-makers had placed her in the work-related activity group, for those with lower support needs, and would need to attend a work-focussed interview.
Campbell says she made it clear to the jobcentre that she was extremely unwell and about to return to hospital.
This week, Jobcentre Plus has phoned to apologise and assure her that she will not now need to attend a work-focussed interview and has finally been placed in the support group.
Linda Burnip, one of the co-founders of Disabled People Against Cuts, which received a request for help from Campbell this week, said: “While we’re inundated on a daily basis with reports about people’s appalling experiences at the hands of Atos and DWP staff, this has to be the most callous and brutal example of how the system is totally failing to meet the needs of disabled people.”
A DWP spokesman denied that Campbell had been “harassed”, and claimed that she had arranged for the jobcentre to call her about the work-focussed interview on the day she was in hospital having the emergency transfusion, but had warned that she might not be available because of the treatment.
Campbell says this claim is “absolute rubbish”, and that she had simply told them on 7 February that she was “really unwell” and that they could call her consultant the next day if they did not believe her.
The DWP spokesman claimed there had been no harassment on the phone while Campbell was lying in her hospital bed, and said: “I don’t know exactly what [the jobcentre employee] said so I cannot comment on that at all.”
He said Jobcentre Plus had phoned Campbell to apologise this week “because she was upset by the call [while she was receiving her transfusion], because obviously she was. It was also to reassure her that she was in the support group.”
He added: “Our version of events is obviously different. It was unfortunate timing that she was in hospital and she was upset and it was completely reasonable that we apologise that she was upset.”
14 February 2013