Claimants asking to have their medicals recorded are being refused and, in some cases, say they have been told by Atos that the DWP have brought the practice to an end. Benefits and Work has been looking into what is really going on.

Benefits and Work has been hearing from members, particularly in the Nottingham and Norwich areas, who have repeatedly had their medicals cancelled because recording equipment has not been available. Some claimants have now been told that recording of medicals has been ended entirely by the DWP and that their medical will go ahead without a recording being made.

As well as emails and forum posts from members, increasing evidence of problems is emerging elsewhere online.

Blogger Jayne Linney had her medical cancelled repeatedly by Atos between April and July because no tape machine was available. She says she was then informed by Atos Nottingham office that the DWP had told them they would not be doing recordings anymore because of the unreliability of the machines.

There are currently only 11 recording machines for the whole country, with each one being shared by all the medical examination centres in a given region. This means that the tape machines have to be frequently boxed up and sent by courier to another centre. Not surprisingly the machines are being damaged as a result of these frequent journeys.

Jayne Linney also received a letter from Atos on Saturday 8 July which you can read here.

It informed her that her medical would be going ahead without a recording being available.

The letter went on to say that:

“​A limited facility to audio record was introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions at a time when only small numbers of requests were anticipated and since that time the number of requests has increased significantly. This has put pressure on our ability to provide sufficient capacity to meet all requests. The DWP have therefore requested that we inform customers when a recording cannot be made, and in these circumstances, that the WCA process should continue.”​

Meanwhile, on its blog on 6 July, Atos wrote:

“​The Department for Work and Pensions specify the type of equipment that can be used and the number we purchase. Due to minimal take-up during the pilot, we only have a limited number of recording devices available. The Department have agreed to us ordering more to meet growing demand and we are awaiting these.

“​We will make every effort to accommodate requests for this service and hope that we will be able to meet demand. However, under the terms of our contract with the Department, we cannot postpone an assessment on the basis of audio-recordin​g.”​

In addition, on 5 July Chris Grayling responded to a question about “​how many people have requested that their work capability assessments should be recorded in each of the last 12 months.”​

Grayling'​s reply was that:

“​The Department is currently negotiating with Atos Healthcare to agree what contractual information will be required to monitor uptake of recordings.

“​In the interim, departmental officials have asked Atos Healthcare to accommodate requests for recordings where the claimant requests in advance of their assessmen​t.”​

Leaving aside the fact that this far into what was supposed to be a trial of recording throughout 2012 there is still no system for counting how many requests are made, this does strongly suggest that the trial has not been ended.

What appears to be happening is that too few recording machines were bought to cope with a rising demand for the recording of medicals. DWP/Atos had expected demand to remain low because they chose not to inform claimants of the right to have their medicals recorded in any letters that they send out or on their websites. However, they had not taken into account the degree of publicity the issue would receive on the web, leading to a rapid rise in request for recordings.

The few machines that are available are being damaged because of frequent transit from one centre to another and they have not yet been replaced. This appears to be the case in the Norwich and Nottingham regions. This has resulted in some claimants having their medicals cancelled three times or more. The DWP have now issued instructions to Atos that the non-availability of recording equipment is not grounds for cancelling medical assessments.

So the DWP instruction that Atos staff are referring to, it seems likely, is not that all recordings have been cancelled but that it is no longer permissible for Atos to cancel a medical because there is no recording equipment available.

As there is no statutory right to have your medical recorded, claimants would be taking an enormous risk if they refused to attend a medical because no recording equipment was available. Their ESA could be stopped as a result and they would have to appeal and try to persuade a tribunal that the lack of recording equipment was good cause for them failing to attend their medical.

We would not advise members to do this.

Meanwhile, Atos continue to refuse to allow claimants to make their own recording on the dubious grounds of “​security and confidentiality considera​tions”​. There is no law against secretly recording your medical for your own records and nothing to prevent a tribunal accepting secretly recorded evidence if they choose. However, Atos are likely to end your medical if they discover that you are recording it. Again this could lead to your ESA being stopped and to your having to appeal with no certainty of success.

We would advise anyone who has had the facility to record their medical refused or cancelled to contact their MP and make as much fuss as they possibly can about the failure to provide a facility that Chris Grayling has said would be available. (On 1 February 2012, Grayling told MPs “​On audio recording, we will offer everyone who wants it the opportunity to have their session recorded.”​)

You might also want to ask your MP what steps are being taken to ensure that a record is being kept of every failure to provide a recording so that the trial is an honest and accurate one.

Benefits and Work is in no doubt that the DWP want this trial of recording medicals to be declared a failure on the grounds that not enough people were interested to make it worthwhile This explains the refusal to inform people of the opportunity to have their medical recorded and the failure to set up a proper system for counting how many people ask for a recording .

However, if it is true that Atos are now having to purchase additional machines –​ paid for by the DWP -to cope with ever rising demand, then it looks like the DWP will have to come up with a different excuse for saying the trial failed.

Meanwhile, please let us know if you have been refused the option to have your medical recorded, either by posting in the comments section below or by emailing us.


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