Atos, the company behind the controversial work capability assessment medicals for employment and support allowance has used a public relations firm to try to get a right to reply on the Benefits and Work forum.

Last week we received a rather surprising request from a PR consultant at Fishburn Hedges for Atos to have a right to reply on the Benefits and Work forum. Fishburn Hedges is a PR firm who say they ‘​help leading organisations promote and defend corporate reputations in an uncertain world’​.

Amongst many other contracts, they were allocated over half a million pounds of taxpayers’​ money for PR work on the National Programme for IT, the online patient record system now widely seen as a disaster for the NHS. Much of the project has now been abandoned and many millions of pounds that could have gone on patient care has been wasted on private sector contracts.

We were intrigued by the request from Fishburn Hedges and asked for more details. Their response was that they had designed a ‘​forum engagement process’​ to allow Atos to engage with customers in a ‘​safe and comfortable environment’​ and to ‘​put their customers at ease’​. In reality it seemed more like an opportunity for Atos to post a lot of links to Frequently Asked Questions on its own website from our forum.

But, in a spirit of co-operation we asked for specific examples of posts on our forum that they would want to respond to and what those responses would be.

Sadly, the Fishburn-Hedges person, who quite possibly knows as much about benefits procedures as I do about public school fagging rules, selected a post about recording medicals as one that they could respond to. So we asked what their response would be.

Presumably they went back to Atos for an answer and that’​s the last we heard from them.

If Atos really do want to engage with their customers and improve their image via social media, they will need to do better than hire an expensive PR company to post links back to their website. Indeed, one thing they could do immediately is cancel the contract with Fishburn Hedges and spend the cash on audio recording machines for all their examination centres instead.

That really would improve their image overnight. Meanwhile, Benefits and Work would be very interested to hear from other benefits groups who have been approached by Fishburn Hedges.


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