Atos decision overturned 900 times in Derry

The Pink Ladies protest outside the Social Security Agency's Medical Assessment Unit on Strand Road last summer.
The Pink Ladies protest outside the Social Security Agency's Medical Assessment Unit on Strand Road last summer.

Almost 900 ill or disabled people in Derry have been wrongly told they were fit to work by medical assessment company Atos since mid 2011.

Figures revealed in Stormont by the Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland show that between June 2011 and December of last year a total of 853 people in the city successfully won Employment and Support Allowance appeals after being declared fit enough to work by Atos.

Maureen Collins from the Derry cancer support group The Pink Ladies - who have held a number of protests outside Atos’ Derry offices - said the work capability assessment process was both “flawed and discriminatory.”

“What you have are people with terminal illnesses, severe mental health problems or genetic conditions being asked questions that are both insulting and disrespects the individual. The process is flawed and discriminatory, it is no friend to those who have a right and entitlement to benefits. As long as Atos remain involved, the process will do nothing but add to the stress and anxiety of the sick and disabled.”

She said a qualified medical practitioner, and not a private company, should hold responsibility for determining someone’s fitness to work.

A spokeswoman for the Social Security Agency said throughout the Work Capability Assessment process “every effort is made by the Department to make a fully informed decision which accurately reflects the claimant’s circumstances.”

She said almost 90% of appeals are “upheld because new supporting evidence was only made available at the appeals stage.”

“In these cases, had the new supporting evidence been made available earlier in the process, this would have influenced the original benefit decision, thus reducing the number of appeals.”At 42%, Derry has the highest rate of successful Atos appeals in the north.

The statistics further show that across the north, 32% of 23,785 people who challenged the decision were successful. Mr McCausland revealed the figures in response to a question by Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan. Atos entered into a seven year contract with DSD in 2011.