A nurse working for the controversial outsourcing company Atos Healthcare repeatedly lied about a disabled man he was assessing for the government’s new disability benefit, it has been claimed.
The Atos assessor stated in his report that claimant Colin Stupples-Whyley had attended the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment alone, even though his partner David* had sat with him throughout the interview.
The couple, who arrived by car, had been accompanied by a friend, who stayed in the waiting-room, but the nurse claimed that Stupples-Whyley had travelled alone to the assessment in Barking on 5 June by public transport.
The allegations raise fresh concerns about the decision of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to award two lucrative PIP assessment contracts to Atos, when the company had already been heavily and repeatedly criticised for its performance in delivering “fitness for work” assessments.
Atos was allowed to pull out of that contract early after activists pointed to links between the way it carried out the assessments, and relapses, episodes of self-harm, and even premature deaths among those being assessed.
But its performance on the two PIP assessment contracts in the two years since the new benefit was launched has plunged Atos back into controversy.
Only last month, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the proportion of disabled people stuck in the queue to be assessed for PIP was more than five times higher in parts of the country managed by Atos, compared with those in areas managed by rival outsourcing giant Capita.
Stupples-Whyley, from Grays, Essex, has been able to prove that he was not alone at his PIP assessment by obtaining a copy of part of the Atos signing-in book under data protection legislation. The page shows his signature, as well as those of David and their friend.
Stupples-Whyley has agoraphobia, general anxiety disorder, depression, fibromyalgia, and diabetes, but he said the impact of these impairments on his day-to-day life was completely misrepresented by the assessor.
The report claims he was able to do sums and spell a word backwards, neither of which he said he was asked to do in the assessment.
He provided a long list of his diabetes symptoms, but the nurse simply wrote down “urinates a lot”.
He also had a panic attack during the assessment, but that was not mentioned in the nurse’s report.
Among other inaccuracies, the assessor stated in the report that a counsellor had diagnosed his mental health conditions, despite being told it was a psychiatrist.
Stupples-Whyley claims that the entire section of the form devoted to a physical examination supposedly carried out by the nurse was completely fabricated, as no such test took place.
The nurse repeatedly claims on the form that difficulties reported by Stupples-Whyley were “inconsistent” with the findings of his assessment.
As a result, he scored zero points on the test and was found ineligible for PIP, while the DWP confirmed that decision after he asked for it to be reconsidered.
Stupples-Whyley said the assessment was “very unpleasant” and that the nurse had become “very rude and disrespectful” after he learned that David was his civil partner.
He said: “The atmosphere was awful throughout and he was more interested in telling us why I wouldn’t get benefit. He would try and put words into my mouth, and he disputed anything I said.”
He added: “I went to the assessment very naive and trusting. I had asked to be seen first or last so that I didn’t have to wait in the waiting room with lots of people.
“When I arrived this had not happened, so I was already very anxious before we went in.
“I honestly thought I would have the assessment, they would obtain my medical records to verify what I had said, then they would or wouldn’t grant PIP payment.”
He now plans to insist that any future benefit assessment is recorded.
He said: “I have no trust in Atos or DWP at all now. I feel angry that lies have been told, I feel angry that DWP refused to even investigate Atos when I said the report was fraudulent.
“I feel hurt that the people I believed to be there to help people are in fact just a department that does everything in its power not to pay any money to claimants.
“I just never in a million years expected to be treated the way I have.”
Because of the experience, his psychiatrist has had to increase his mental health medication.
Stupples-Whyley said he had become “obsessed” with his PIP experience, which had left him determined to prove that he was not a liar.
He said he felt “huge relief” when he received the paperwork that proved all three of them had visited Atos Barking on the day of the assessment.
He said: “I have found the whole complaints process overwhelming. DWP take no responsibility and in a few days’ time it will be two months and still no response from anyone at Atos.
“The overall affect for me is that my world has just got even smaller, because now I do not trust government nor healthcare providers to have my best interests at heart, nor to act with honesty.”
He plans to appeal to a tribunal, and his MP, Jackie Doyle-Price, has written to Atos to request a fresh assessment.
Today (Thursday), two days after DNS contacted the company’s press office about his story, Stupples-Whyley was telephoned by Atos to inform him that his complaint was now being treated at the most serious level of internal inquiries.
He was told that he would be interviewed soon about his complaint, and was offered a reassessment.
An Atos spokeswoman only provided a comment on the condition that DNS did not name the nurse.
She said in the statement: “A complaint was received by us from Mr Stupples-Whyley a few weeks after his assessment. It has been thoroughly investigated and we have spoken to him directly.
“In the interests of fairness and transparency we have offered Mr Stupples-Whyley a reassessment.
“It is distressing for all concerned that Mr Stupples-Whyley is so unhappy about his assessment and we are sorry that this is the case. All complaints to us are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”
But she has refused to confirm that the investigation is ongoing, if any disciplinary action has been taken against the nurse, whether the nurse is still carrying out assessments for Atos, and whether Atos accepts that Stupples-Whyley did not attend the assessment alone.
*Not his real name