19 September 2006
Benefits and Work can exclusively reveal that the company which carries out benefits medicals has negotiated a contract which allows them to keep secret, even from the DWP, the identity of the organisation which hears complaints against them.
Where claimants are unhappy with a medical carried out by Atos Origin Medical Services the complaint is first considered by Atos Origin itself. If the claimant is not happy with the result of the complaint it is then passed on to an independent tier, who look at whether the complaint was dealt with correctly.
However, Benefits and Work's attempts via the Freedom of Information Act to find out which company carries out this 'independent tier' review have so far been thwarted by the astonishing admission by the DWP that it's a secret - even from them.
According to the DWP, when the contract to carry out medical services was renewed last year:
'Atos Origin proposed and the DWP agreed, that details of the private company they have appointed to investigate the handling of complaints be withheld to ensure independence '
It's worth reading that statement again, just to be sure you're not imagining it.
What it means is that if you complain about an Atos doctor and you're not happy with Atos' response, your further complaint will be heard by a company chosen by Atos. Not only that, but in order to ensure that the company is properly independent, you're not allowed to know who they are and neither is the DWP. The only people who are allowed to know its identity are Atos, the company you're complaining about.
It is no doubt absolutely beyond the bounds of possibility that this 'independent' company might be one which has any sort of financial relationship with Atos, which might risk affecting its impartiality. Nonetheless, a system in which the accused is the only one who appoints, and knows the identity of, the judge seems to fly in the face of any concept of natural justice. Benefits and Work will continue to ask questions - anonymous tip-offs always welcome.