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Patrick Lynch- The First Person Suing The Government And ATOS Over The WCA

December 14, 2012

Disabled people and carers have a long list of serious problems with the Work Capability Assessment and Atos Healthcare, the company contracted by the Government to carry these out.

The feeling against Atos is so strong that it could perhaps come as a surprise to anyone who follows these issues that no one has yet thought of suing the company over the WCA process.

No one, that is, until now.

Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to stop work because of a brain condition for which he reportedly had surgery, was, like many other disabled and seriously ill people, incorrectly found fit for work after a WCA.

He is now launching legal action seeking a review of the assessments. He is claiming that   the government and Atos failed to record an interview despite assurances from ministers that all could be taped.

Before his first interview in September 2010, Mr Lynch had spent five months undergoing brain surgery. Yet he was found fit for work at this interview. Mr Lynch disputed this.

An examination by Atos found that Mr Lynch had “no abnormalities or tenderness to the neck or spine” despite the major surgery he had recently experienced.  The report of the examination did not consider his medical history.

Mr Lynch said: “I had been in hospital and lost 54kg (8.5 stone) in weight. The doctors told me I was on death’s door. I mean I came in on crutches and could not pick things up because I was afraid of falling over. But they did not say that. I even photocopied my medical notes and handed them over but because there was no recording it was my word against theirs.”

The DWP’s decision was eventually reversed, and Mr Lynch was given £100 in compensation for the stress he suffered.

He was reassessed this year, and asked for the process to be recorded. However, he was told “no recording equipment was available, that much of it was broken or being used outside of London and that it would take too long to obtain.”

Atos has just 11 recording machines to be shared between 123 assessment centres. Yet former employment minister Chris Grayling told MPs in February this year that the Government would offer everyone who wanted this the chance to have their session recorded.

Mr Lynch is arguing in his lawsuit that ministers and Atos acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough equipment to record sessions. He said: “That’s why I am launching my legal action. You cannot have Atos and the government carrying on like this.”

Hehas the backing of the TUC-funded anti-cuts campaign, False Economy.  A spokesperson for the group said its investigations had shown that “too many people feel vulnerable in this process. People feel that their final assessment reports inaccurately reflect information exchanged during work capability assessments. We’ve found it hard to pin down the DWP on recording policy. Universal recording, and giving people the opportunity to see their WCA reports before final eligibility decisions are made, will go some way towards restoring fairness and accuracy while the WCA process continues.”

Mr Lynch’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, said that the “assessment process… constitutes an unacceptable risk of unfairness. We hope these safeguards will be instituted to help mitigate that risk.”

The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Assessments of disability must be fair and proportionate, treat people with respect and be part of a consistent system. There is overwhelming evidence that they have fallen far short of these basic standards. It is right that they should be challenged in court.”

A DWP spokesperson said it had until 24 December to respond to the lawyer’s letter from Mr Lynch. Its own most recent review found the “work capability assessment is not in need of fundamental reform. There is a long history of judicial reviews concerning welfare reform and as always we will robustly defend our policies. We have already made substantial improvements to the process.”

Many disabled people and carers will be pleased to hear of Mr Lynch’s decision to take this legal action. It will undoubtedly cause him a fair amount of stress. That is before taking into consideration any financial costs.

However, if the action is successful, it is to be hoped that Atos will dramatically improve their assessment process as a direct result, and that this will be the last case of its kind.

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