ATOS bosses grilled by MSPs over profits

The firm behind controversial benefits assessments faced a grilling from MSPs today over the profits they are making from welfare reforms.

Picture: TSPL

Bosses at ATOS also came under fire over the treatment of people with terminal conditions and the suicide of one claimant, during a frosty appearance before Holyrood’s welfare reform committee.

The firm was also criticised for using “management speak” to describe changes in the benefits system.

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ATOS chiefs admitted their assessment work was “very unacceptable” in the early stages of the assessments of the personal independence payments for people with health and disabilities. But David Haley, Client Executive, PIP said the situation has since improved.

More than 92,000 assessments for PIP have been carried out by the company and its subcontractors.

SNP MSP Kevin Stewart asked: “You’ve stated at this moment in time you are contracted by the DWP to carry out these PIP assessments. Could you give us an indication of how much profit Atos is likely to get from this contract?”

Mr Haley said the company expects to return a profit “over the duration of the contract”, but said he not could say what that would be as it has invested in extra staff and additional assessment rooms to tackle the backlog in waiting times for assessments.

Mr Haley said the role of ATOS was only to deliver the assessment of the client’s clinical situation - it was the DWP which made the ruling over the level of benefits.

“We aren’t involved in policy, we aren’t involved in the delivery of reform - we are involved in the delivery of assessment,” he said.

“I believe we deliver high quality assessments.”

But Nationalist backbencher Kevin Stewart said: “Do you think you are being paid to be the fall guys?”

Mr Stewart also hit out at the use of terms like a “blended model and supply chain” by Mr Haley in describing the changes.

“In terms of the management speak, I think it’s galling enough that folk know that there is profit being made out of these assessments anyway - the management speak just adds fuel to the fire.”

Another SNP backbencher Joan McAlpine said The PIP scheme was seeking to make budget cuts of 20% which means people are inevitably going to lose out.

Dr Barrie McKillop, Clinical Director, Atos Healthcare insisted this wasn’t part of its role.

“We don’t have any targets related to an outcome of an individual case or cases as a whole.

“We don’t even know the outcome of any individual case that we assess.”

Asked if the DWP was reaching decisions which weren’t based on the ATOS reports, Dr McKillop said: “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

But Ms McAlpine raised concern over the wider assessment process and said former nurse Jacqueline Harris from Gloucester killed herself after being declared fit for work.

“You must feel that there’s something wrong with the criteria by which you assess people.”

The issues facing motor neurone disease sufferers who have to be reassessed every six months was raised by Christina McKelvie of the SNP who said they should not have to “fight the system” with a terminal condition.

Research for Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee has found about 120,000 people in Scotland could lose an estimated £2,600 a year as a result of the changes.