16 June 2005

Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres (DUWC) are spearheading a national campaign against the closure of 21 medical centres throughout England and Scotland. Announcement of the closure of the centres by Atos Origin comes within months of the company winning a half billion pound contract from the DWP to continue carrying out medicals in relation to disability living allowance, incapacity benefit and other health related benefits.

The sites are to be closed in two waves. The first group, which will close by the end of August 2005, consists of:

Barnsley, Bolton, Bradford, Cambridge, Catford, Chesterfield, Colchester, Derby, Dorchester, Greenock, Hartlepool, Oxford and Stirling .

The second group, which will close by the end of December 2005, consists of:

Chelmsford, Darlington, Durham, Lewisham, Middlesborough, Seven Sisters, Sunderland, Thornton Heath.

The closures appear to have no possible justification other than to increase the profits of Atos Origin at the expense, both financial and in terms of physical and mental distress, of those forced to undergo medical examinations. According to DUWC the company appears to have used a stipulation in the contract that claimants should not have to travel for more than 90 minutes to for a medical as justification for shutting centres that were closer together than contractually necessary.

If you got her there's nowt wrong with you
One of the particularly worrying aspects of this move is the fact that one of the items of information always recorded under the new computer generated medical assessments is how the claimant travelled to the examination and how long it took. The length and type of journey can be used as evidence that the claimant can carry out all sorts of activities. For example, a one hour bus journey might be used as evidence that the claimant can:

sit for at least an hour,
walk to and from bus stops,
stand at bus stops,
handle coins,
climb steps,
cope with interactions with strangers,
deal with changes in routine.

Stay off the bus
We would always advise claimants, unless they are ordinarily able to use public transport, to avoid using it when attending medicals because of the assumptions that might be made about their capabilities as a result. Clearly it will be harder and more expensive to avoid public transport the further claimants have to travel.


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