Feb 232013

 Please also read below from the brilliant Kate Belgrave with many thanks to Kate for allowing us to repost-see more from Kate at http://www.katebelgrave.com/

On November 5, Mark Hoban told parliament that “we have introduced a mental health champion in every single assessment centre throughout the country.”

He absolutely had not.

Why cant we find out more about Atos mental health function Champions?
 Update Thursday 14 February 2013: Atos has been in contact and discussions are underway to set up a meeting. Interesting. They reckon they sent an email to a generic email address of one group on the list and made a phone call a week or so ago – a fairly half-hearted attempt to set up a meeting if you ask me, but at least we’re underway. Ish. I want to know what this role really does, or doesn’t, do for people with mental health problems who must go through WCAs. I’ve seen plenty of examples of the problems WCAs cause people and more needs to be known about this MFC role – the role that was created to, purportedly, improve WCAs for people with mental health problems. More soon.


For several months now, as readers of this site will know, a group of Newcastle mental health service users and support workers and I have been asking Atos to agree to set a meeting up between us and Atos’ work capability assessment mental function champions. (Mental function champions do not advise or support claimants: they provide advice and coaching to Atos healthcare professionals).

I’m posting this article to let you know that despite repeated assurances from Atos that our meeting will be organised, it hasn’t been. Atos keeps saying it’ll set a meeting up for us, but never does. We call Atos and we email Atos and they say they’ll get right onto it. They don’t. So we call Atos and email Atos and they say they’ll get right onto it. They don’t. So, we got in contact with Atos again about a fortnight ago and were assured that a call would be made and a meeting would be set up. Nothing’s happened. It has occured to us that Atos doesn’t want us to meet with mental function champions. Or something. We’re sure that they’re there, etc. We just want to see them and find out more about the “role.”

Mental function champions are the individuals Malcolm Harrington suggested that Atos added to the work capability assessment process to “spread best practice amongst Atos healthcare professionals in mental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities,” whatever that means. Last year, the DWP told me that 60 of these MFCs were in place (I suppose we take that as written for now) and that they largely worked a phone advice line. Mark Hoban went somewhere else with it, into territory that may best be described as make-believe: on November 5, he told parliament that “we have introduced a mental health champion in every single assessment centre throughout the country.” The DWP rowed back on that and admitted that there wasn’t a mental function champion in every single assessment centre in the country. There were/are 60, apparently, and they’re mostly on the phone. The DWP didn’t much want to talk about that: its officers told me to contact Atos for more on MFCs. And as I say – pinning Atos down on the details has been a struggle.

In his first-year review of work capability assessments, Harrington observed that concerns had been raised about Atos assessors’ knowledge and understanding of mental health conditions. “The short training course in mental health that Atos assessors receive is proving nowhere near adequate to allow them to accurately assess applicants,” MIND said in the review.

I’d take it a good few steps further than that. Complaints and concerns about the appalling effects of WCAs on people with mental health problems are, as I’ve written before, widespread and well-documented: work capability assessments and descriptors for disability benefits place too much emphasis on basic physical readiness for work, do not account for the fluctuating nature of some mental health illnesses and assume that everyone is always in a position to offer a detailed picture of their circumstances. Once found fit for work, people’s benefits are cut, they must appeal or apply for jobseekers’ allowance, they can fall behind on their rent and bills and their mental health really begins to deteriorate, as this doctor will tell you. I have witnessed some of this myself, having attended work capability assessments with people who have mental health problems and followed them as they have gone through the stressful appeals process. Stephen, a 54-year-old man with schizophrenia who was one of those people, got a zero-points score in his initial WCA assessment, but was placed in the ESA support group on appeal – a monumental turnaround by the DWP that made everyone involved wonder at the criteria. Claimants with mental health problems have sought recourse in court: last month, the courts heard a case which, if won, will put the onus on the DWP to make sure medical evidence from practitioners is sourced from the start of the ESA application process for people who have mental health problems.

Those issues being very much the case, it is understandable that people with mental health problems and their supporters want to know how the MFC role works. Meeting with champions and asking them about their daily role seemed as good an approach to this as any. It certainly seemed a better approach than asking Atos directly, given the thin results that has yielded.

I asked Atos to explain exactly who MFCs are and the skills they bring to WCAs. Atos’ response was short on specifics: the company had, apparently, “invited leading external experts in mental health to help shape the role for the mental function champions,” and the champions “work alongside our healthcare professionals, supporting them in a range of different ways.” The word “alongside” could be considered a stretch – as we’ve seen, the DWP said that MFCs advise Atos HCPs down a phone (“telephone-based support” Atos calls it). Details of the “different ways” support was provided were not forthcoming in the response I received. I received this instead: “Our mental function champions are selected for the role because they have considerable expertise within the mental function field. They may already have higher training or a higher qualification in the field of psychiatry or have experience working in Mental Health, Learning Disability or Cognitive Impairment.” Presumably, the word “may” there means that some may not. There’s an awful lot of Maybe going on here.

Anyway. People want to meet with MFCs because they want to know more about the “role” and see it in action. It’s important. It’s very important. The MFC role is, it could be said, to be the main means by which concerns about WCAs and mental health problems have been “addressed” (ahem) to date. So – people need specifics. They need to know how, on a day-to-day basis, the role “spreads best practice” so that it improves WCAs for people going through them – assuming that is what is does. As I’ve observed – the jury’s out on that one. Things are too difficult for people going through WCAs for this topic to be left at a few press statements from Atos. I know we’re not the only people who are interested, too. I’m also pretty sure that Atos doesn’t want us to be.


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  9 Responses to “Harrowing Atos Assessment and Where are the Mental Health Champions?”

  1. I so agree with all the comments put. At this very moment I am waiting for my son and my husband to emerge from my son’s ATOS assessment interview. The lead-up to this has been horrific, with postponements by them (they even put this morning’s interview forward by hours, so that my husband had to dash 80 miles to get there in time to be with our son) and phone calls which they fully expect our son to answer, even though he can’t even do that without having to go to bed for the rest of the day.

    Our son, who is 30 years old and has Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, anxiety and depression, has been severely traumatised by this process already. Of course he would work if he could, he longs to! We even set up a business for him so that he could work at himself without being a burden to society, but that has folded because of his illness and he is now thrown on the mercy of this Government and us, his retired parents. Added to that, he has a family! So far he receives only basic incapacity benefit and an allowance which is a pittance, and the rest comes from our pensions, or else food banks. He is suicidal, feels a total failure and has lost all confidence since his work breakdown, he longs to work but simply can’t. I echo his despair. Don’t know what will happen after today but guess what? Going by what has happened to him so far, he won’t be entitled to anything and we will go to our graves with this eternal worry. Thanks, David Cameron, you are doing such a good job of shortening our lives as well as that of our son.

  2. I suppose we have no way of easily knowing, but it’d be interesting to know how many people with MH problems in the first 6 month’s of Atos’ reign were sent to JSA, WRAG, Support Group, as opposed to how many are now. My suspicion is the first few months were the most severe and Atos are having to progressively tone it down. But then I also know of recent cases- someone just coming out of being sectioned being put on JSA etc. People need advocacy to say the right things in the interview, fill in the forms right, and –emotional support– wile waiting for the outcome and so on. That would be the ideal, it would cost the powers that be money though so isn’t likely.

  3. “The politics behind the welfare myths”


  4. This government are going to have a lot of deaths on their hands. I am disabled and have told my husband after having a very thorough assessment of a so called doctor 14 years ago and told it was indefinite. How the heck can they put us all through it again. Ridiculous when you have the medical facts from doctors and hospitals. Ive told my hubbie. If they take it off me I will commit suicide. I could not survive without my disability support and my car! I hate what they want to put us through when weve already been assessed and awarded for life. Do they really know what they are doing. Blood on their hands!! Get rid of them all!

  5. What a shameful way to treat sick and ill people. It’s nice to hear that Suzlou above had support and right was done in the end but what an awful process to put people through. It’s like people are being victimized for needing to claim benefit. I’m sure this is a deliberate strategy by the nasty party and accepted by Nick Clegg & co.

    In the next few weeks we have benefits reduced for those whose houses are deemed too big and huge tax cuts for those earning over £150,000 per year. Tax avoidance on a massive scale is ignored while baliffs are sent into the poor people.

    This government is an utter disgrace, the sooner they’re gone the better.

  6. I work in mental health and am very concerned that mental health issues are minimised and ignored both by ATOS and A4E – neither organisation has staff trained to a suitable level to interview or assess mental health issues. This leaves both claimants and staff at risk. The suggestion that a bit of advice over the phone is adequate leaves me speechless.
    Totally support the valuable work you are doing to raise awareness and fight for rights.

  7. Completely agree, those of us with Mental Health issues are completely ignored by ‘the System’, and can be seriously affected by DWP actions. Mark Hoban seems completely devoid of tact, compassion, and sympathy towards this problem. Has anyone found out about MFCs yet? After the Commons debate in January, after some 40 MPs reeled off stories of genuine constituents’ problems, with a smile on his face he talked of Myths and Media exaggerration. After being grilled by Maragret Hodge’s committee, he talked of Myths again. Until someone is able to question this man with intelligent questions on prime time TV or Radio, he doesn’t seem capable of reacting or giving it his attention.

  8. I can relate to this in so many ways. I have PTSD, Depression, anxiety and agrophobia but at my first WCA was assessed by a physiotherapist! At my last assessment in September 2012 the assessor was a mental health nurse (or so she said anyway)! This person, who claimed to understand mental health illnesses, then proceeded to probe about the causes of my PTSD!! Had she even the basic understanding of PTSD she would have known that asking me to recall the trauma I experienced was simply not a good idea. I got the required points (35 in total) and have been placed in the WRAG, but cannot get any ESA as I’ve had my 365 days worth! I have appealed the descision and asked to be placed in the support group and now just waiting for my ‘day in court’. The financial difficulties I now have (rent arrears, utility arrears, feeding my 3 boys with handouts from a foodbank etc) and the prospect of attending a tribunal in front of more people I don’t know and having to open my wounds all over again is quite literally killing me. In fact i’m sitting here writing this and spinning through my mind are different ways I could end this agony, if you get my meaning! The ‘suicide’ word is after all a dirty word!! Mental Health champions….don’t make me laugh!!!

  9. Something badly needs to be done regarding this . While on incapacity I was assesed 3 times first two times I accrued enought points to be considered fit for work . 3rd time the nurse who was assesing me kept telling me I needed to answer just yes or no and I kept trying to explain my condition did not work like that there were no straight yes or no answers . Following this third assesment I was found to have only 2 points and fit for work , this was despite my condition at this point requiring the highest level of medication I have ever taken for it and the fact I having weekly counselling sessions with a pschologist and under the care of a mental health team. I appealed this decision and while it was overturned the months of stress while fighting this put my recovery back greatly and to be honest I only got through because I had great support. This is my ultimate worry about this process that people will die because of the levels of stress they are put under when they are often already in a fragile mental state .

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