20 May 2005

It will probably never happen again, so we’re going to savour the moment: an apology, an expression of gratitude and an undertaking to put things right from Atos Origin Medical Services contained in a letter from their bosses at the DWP.

What, you might wonder could have prompted such an event?

As regular visitors will know, using the Freedom of Information Act we recently obtained a copy of the 115 page guidance issued to DLA doctors which we’ve been reading with great attention to detail.

The guidance includes details of the attributes a report written about a DLA claimant should display, such as being written in plain English and being consistent, in order to meet Atos Origin’ contractual responsibilities. Some attributes are ‘key’ ones, in that failure to display them mean that the report is unfit for purpose and Atos should not be paid for producing it. Others are merely ‘desirable’ and failure to display them will not render the report unusable.

The key attributes are denoted with an asterisk in the various publications in which they appear, including the DLA doctors guidance. Imagine our astonishment then, on discovering that in the doctors guidance there is no asterisk next to the “Legible” attribute on either occasion on which it appears. In other words DLA doctors guidance suggest that it would be nice if people could read their reports, but don’t worry too much if they can’t, it’s not all that important. Which would explain the state of so many of the medical reports we see.

We immediately sought clarification under the Freedom of Information Act of what had become of the missing asterisks. Had the contract been renegotiated to allow Atos to be paid for illegible reports or was this just an error?

We received a response from the DWP Product and Business Design Directorate (remember when social security wasn’t a product or a business, jut a way of supporting people who need it), who explained that:

“The points you raise are in fact caused by a printing error. The document is converted into a ‘pdf’ format by the printers which has resulted in some information being lost. . . The Guidance for Examining Medical Practitioners will be proof read again by Atos Origin Medical Services Training and Development Manager who will also arrange for the reissue of the corrected pages to the current holders of this guide. It is important to note that auditors have not been using the incorrect version of the Guidance for Examining Medical Practitioners.

Atos Origin Medical Services have asked me to pass on their sincere apologies for the confusion that this error has caused and also to thank you for bringing it to their attention”

Yes, well, blaming it all on a software fault would be an awful lot more convincing if it wasn’t for the fact that the DWP sent us a Word version of the guidance i.e. a copy that was created before it was converted to a .pdf file.

Atos are clearly rather embarrassed about it all and we obviously regret any inconvenience or expense that they will be put to as a result of us having nothing better to do with our time than to go rooting through their publications. But it will all have been worth it because, with the asterisk restored, we can now undoubtedly look forward to a golden age of legible medical reports.

P.S. There’s actually another missing asterisk – but we’re waiting till the next edition of the guidance comes out to see if they noticed it too.


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