Good news for anyone relying on ATOS assessments for disability benefit claims - twelve doctors may be struck off by the General Medical Council if they've put other considerations ahead of their patients' wellbeing during Work Capability Assessments. I know it might sound crass that I'm calling the possible end of these medical careers 'good news', so let me explain the situation for anyone who is unaware of this shambles of a system. Acronyms ahoy...
WCAs have been under close scrutiny for some time since their introduction in 2008, with many tales of suspected incompetence and insensitivity from the people running the assessment. As I've said before, the plural of anecdote is not data, so I've got a statistic for you to back up these suspicions: 40% of appeals against the assessment outcome being successful according to the Department for Work and Pensions. It's certainly a far higher figure than I'd expect to see for such a key benefit claim.
Certain newspapers have been very keen to use those in need of Disability Living Allowance as scapegoats for benefit fraud, painting the majority of claimants as scroungers on the basis of questionable claims. DLA claimants are in fact the lowest priority group to target when considering benefit fraud, since only 0.5% of the claims made are fraudulent - hell, the DWP themselves give away more cash in official error at 0.8%, shouldn't George Osbourne be attacking them instead? Yes, but the claimants make a far better scapegoat than a department since they can be stereotyped as lazy freeloaders - once again it's the fault of the person who is ill, not the wonderful government we've found ourselves with.
People who promote the stereotype of the lazy scrounger claiming DLA would do well to remember that the only thing standing between them and the ATOS board is pure chance - any one of us could be badly injured by an unforseen accident or illness, regardless of political views or status. It's in everyone's best interests to ensure a fair and reliable system, not to create resentment and misinformation.
The government may not change its tune about DLA claimants and ATOS for some time, but hopefully the enquiry into the behaviours of these doctors by the General Medical Council will be the start of more thorough investigations into ATOS assessments. The system is either corrupt or incompetent - rumours of financial incentives for getting claimants off benefits have been circulating for some time although ATOS claims that these have no impact on the medical assessment. If this is true then what are we doing employing medics who are deemed to have made an incorrect judgement in 40% of appeals? Highly disconcerting whichever option you pick.