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12 November 2009

The issue of tape recording benefits medicals is one that frequently comes up in our discussion forums. Atos, the company that caries them out, insists that if you wish to do so you must provide a professional operator and a properly calibrated tape machine that records two copies of the examination at the same time.  Deeply unreasonable and unaffordable as these conditions are, what happens when a claimant actually meets them?

We spoke to a Benefits and Work member who did exactly that. 

Our member, who we have decided not to name, has a severe health condition which means he suffers cognitive difficulties, often having enormous problems concentrating due to extreme fatigue and sometimes becoming uncertain and confused. 

He prefers to tape his medicals so that he can check later that the evidence he gave was correct and complete.  He also has concerns about the accuracy of some medical reports, having known two people with the same condition who attended incapacity benefit medicals.

“They both got kicked off benefits and the medical report bore no resemblance to what they said” he told Benefits and Work.

Our member recorded his incapacity medicals twice in the nineties, prior to the medical services contract being outsourced to Atos.  On each occasion both he and the doctor recorded the medical on their own tape machines and then swapped tapes at the end of the examination.  The Benefits Agency, as it then was, had no objection to the procedure.

Each time the claimant was subsequently found to be incapable of work.

When our member was summoned to his latest PCA medical he wrote and asked Atos for permission to record it, as usual. 

“We bought two brand new tape recorders and two unused tapes especially for the medical” he explained

Atos, however, wrote back refusing to allow our member to use the tape machines.  They stated that their policy on taping of medicals is that the doctor has to give consent for a recording to be made and:

"The recording must be made by a professional operator, on equipment of a high standard, properly calibrated by a qualified engineer immediately prior to the recording being made. The equipment must have facility for reproduction so that a copy of the tape can be retained by all parties.

The responsibility for meeting the cost of the above requirement rests with the claimant."

Our member made a formal complaint about these extremely hard to meet conditions but nonetheless turned up as required for his medical in September. However, he claims he was sent away again unseen on the grounds that his complaint had not yet been dealt with.

Our member then searched for and found a professional sound engineer who was prepared to meet all the Atos requirements and carry out the recording for a fee of £100.

Once again, he wrote to Atos, informing them of this and waited to be given a new appointment.

Instead, he received a letter stating that he would still not be permitted to record the medical because:

“Unfortunately, at present none of the healthcare professionals are prepared to take part in a recorded medical session.”

Our member has been left feeling that the reality is that it is impossible for claimants to gain permission to record their Atos medical.  This seems to be so even where the claimant has genuine health reasons for wishing to have a record of the examination and where refusal may even constitute a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Our member has been left feeling unhappy both about the refusal and about his subsequent treatment:

“I’m extremely angry about it.  And when I went through the complaints procedure, it was just a joke.”

To add insult to injury, when our member told Atos that his partner would be attending his rearranged medical and would take notes he received a letter from Atos stating that:

“Your carer is very welcome to sit in the examination room with you and take notes.  Please be aware that they should not take any part in the discussions, nor ask any questions.”

In fact, this restriction is not only potentially a further breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, but is also against the guidance in the Incapacity Benefit Handbook for Medical Services Doctors, which states:

“Claimants will often feel more at ease when accompanied, and indeed this may be a prerequisite to enable them to come to the Examination Centre.

“Companions will be able to give useful information, particularly in cases where the claimant has mental health problems, learning difficulties, or communication problems, or people who stoically understate their problems.”

Given the apparent impossibility of being allowed to openly record their medicals, it is little wonder that an increasing number of claimants choose  to secretly record their medicals.

NB Whilst there appears to be no legal reason why you should not secretly tape your medical, this should be for your own use only and any recording must not be published or played to anyone else. It is likely that the medical will be brought to an end if you are found to be recording it and this may have consequences for your benefits.  Please see the articles below for further details:

Claimants secretly taping medicals: the DWP responds 


Claimant’s benefit stopped for recording medical