A disabled women says she was left to sit in her own urine for nearly two hours after her plight was ignored by a healthcare professional carrying out a disability benefit assessment.
Maria Lane has spoken up about the “devastating” experience she endured during her personal independence payment (PIP) assessment, in the hope that other disabled people will not have to go through similar experiences.
She told – and showed – the assessor just 10 minutes into the assessment that she had had an accident and had emptied her bladder into her incontinence pad, and that urine was leaking into her trousers.
But she said the female assessor – who works for the government contractor Atos – “looked for a second at the pad” and then continued typing.
Atos has now launched an investigation.
For nearly two hours, she was forced to continue answering questions, with the assessor warning her whenever she failed to do so that if she did not respond she would have to return for another assessment.
Maria Lane has a number of long-term health conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis – which affects all of her joints and has spread into her spine – sciatica, a slipped disc, high blood pressure, and depression.
She is waiting for a major operation on her bladder, because of severe incontinence which means she has to wear pads permanently.
She said: “Once your bladder starts, you have to go. It will continue, no stopping, and then it leaks. I have no control over it.
“It just comes and I have to be prepared and change [my trousers] and if you’re nervous it is worse.
“I showed her all that, she must have seen, it was all over my trousers. She ignored me. She ignored me completely or she didn’t believe me.
“She has heard me alright because I showed them to her. She looked for a second and then went back to her report. She was like a robot. She had no emotions.”
She was also appalled by the way she was handled during a physical examination.
The assessor placed a chair behind her in case she fell over during the examination, which at one stage she did, and was “pulling my arms about” and causing her “terrible pain”, she said.
Now she says she has lost all her confidence, and has been left “devastated” by the “very upsetting” experience at the assessment centre in Enfield, north London.
She said: “It is embarrassing for me. I didn’t know what to do when I came out, I was crying.
“I want to prevent this happening to other people. I would hate to see other people going through what I have.”
She added: “I am 59 years old and I have never been treated like that. She took all my rights, all my dignity.
“It was inhuman to allow me to sit there.”
She currently receives the highest rate of PIP through the enhanced rate for both daily living and mobility, but is terrified about what will happen if the assessor recommends that she loses any of that entitlement.
She currently spends about £55 a week on incontinence pads, which is paid for with some of her PIP.
She said: “If I lose that money, what is going to happen?”
She believes she has been discriminated against by Atos, and is writing a letter of complaint to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), while one of her two daughters – both of whom work in the healthcare sector – has made an appointment to see her MP on her behalf.
She is the latest PIP claimant to come forward to describe appalling experiences at the hands of private contractors paid hundreds of millions of pounds every year by the government to assess their eligibility for disability benefits.
The future use of companies like Atos to carry out disability benefit assessments was an issue at last week’s general election, with Labour pledging to end the use of private contractors to carry out all disability benefit assessments, while the SNP had already pledged to ban the private sector from involvement in Scotland’s benefit assessments.
Atos has now promised to investigate what happened to Maria Lane, while DWP has described her account as “very concerning”.
An Atos spokesman said: “We were concerned to hear of this and that is why we have written to Ms Lane explaining that an investigation into the issues raised is underway.”
A DWP spokeswoman added: “All claimants deserve an objective, accurate and high quality service and Mrs Lane’s account is very concerning.
“Atos is contacting the claimant and we will work with them to look into the issues raised.
“We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments, and work closely with them to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.
“Assessment providers have to conform to a strict set of quality standards regarding staff recruitment and training, to demonstrate that their health professionals meet all of our requirements before they are approved to carry out assessments.”
The assessors must be either occupational therapists, level one nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics or doctors, and must be fully registered and have at least two years post full-registration experience.
She said: “All health professionals are subject to on-going quality audit to ensure they continue to deliver high quality assessments.
“Where assessors fall below the required standards and do not improve, processes are in place to stop them carrying out assessments.”
She added: “Assessment providers have their own complaints process regarding the services they provide.
“This signposts complainants to the Independent Case Examiner if they remain dissatisfied with the provider’s final response to their complaint.”