MPs reveal 'shocking' lack of quality in benefits assessments
11 February 2013
Bad decisions are responsible for many of the problems associated with WCAs (work capability assessments), MPs say.
A Commons public accounts committee report states that 38 per cent of WCA medical assessment decisions are overturned on appeal.
Of these, one third are overturned because the tribunal simply disagreed with the original decision — not because any new evidence was presented, according to the report.
BMA occupational medicine committee chair Paul Nicholson said the number of decisions overturned on appeal was a ‘shocking indictment’ that indicated a lack of quality assurance.
Dr Nicholson said: ‘Surely there ought to be a stringent focus on … getting it right first time when dealing with peoples’ lives and their welfare. Why should patients have to tolerate this extent of incorrect decisions and the stress of waiting for, and enduring, appeals processes? And why should taxpayers foot the bill?’
The WCA is used by private firm Atos Healthcare, on behalf of the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), to reassess existing recipients of incapacity benefit and assess new claimants for the employment support allowance.
The report Department for Work and Pensions: Contract Management of Medical Services, published last week, says the process ‘too often leads to the wrong decisions and is failing far too many people’.
The report adds that the DWP does not know the full cost of the WCA decision-making process. The DWP paid Atos £112.4m in 2011/12 to carry out 738,000 assessments, it states.
It adds: ‘While some of the costs are known, such as the £26.3m paid to HM Courts and Tribunals Service for its work on appeals, there is little information on the cost and impact on the NHS or on some of the internal interactions within the DWP.
‘Without a full understanding of these costs, the DWP cannot come to an evidence-based conclusion on the value for money of its current decision-making process.’
The DWP has also failed to develop a competitive market as Atos Healthcare is almost a ‘monopoly supplier’ for all medical assessments, select committee chair Margaret Hodge said.
Employment minister Mark Hoban said the report failed to recognise ‘considerable improvements’ that have been made to the WCA process since the coalition government came to power in May 2010.
Doctors called for the WCA system to be replaced at the BMA annual representative meeting in Bournemouth last year.
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