Derry cancer support group The Pink Ladies will stage a protest outside the ATOS medical assessment centre on Strand Road next week against what they describe as “arrogant and uncompassionate” testing.
The group will hold the protest outside the Strand Road office next Thursday at 5.15pm and have appealed for individuals, community groups, political parties, and other groups to support them.
Michelle McLaren from the Pink Ladies said it is “horrendous” that people who are recovering from cancer have to go through a detailed medical assessment to prove they are too sick to work.
Ms McLaren said the medical assessment process is causing unnecessary anxiety to people who are already under a lot of stress.
“When you have cancer you don’t come out of remission for five years. We have heard of many people who have got letters to go for these medical assessments, some not long after finishing their treatment.
“These people have had to go through being diagnosed with cancer, and the treatment, and then they have to go through this process of the medical assessment. It causes so much unnecessary stress,” she said.
Ms McLaren also said the process is impacting on the health of cancer survivors and their families. “There is an arrogance about the whole process. It is not like anyone is pretending to have cancer. You get a diagnosis from a GP and consultants and that is all documented. Having to prove you are sick is humiliating.
“It has an impact on entire families. Aside from the physical issues, the mental anxiety of dealing with cancer is horrendous. On top of that, the cost of cancer is unreal. Worrying about whether you are going to lose your benefits and having to go through this process just makes matters worse,” she said.
One member of the Pink Ladies who has recently attended a medical assessment said the entire process is flawed. “I am 58 years old and have been through cancer and I have been through the assessment. Last week I got a letter saying they are going to give me a personal advisor to help me get back to work. There are days I can’t get out of bed and I don’t have power in my arms so I don’t know what work they expect me to do,” she said.
Maureen Collins from the Pink Ladies, who also works as a debt advisor at Dove House, said the medical assessment process is creating financial hardship for many cancer patients. “The physical and mental impact of attending an assessment is bad enough but the long period of time it take to receive confirmation informing applicants of a decision makes it worse. In the majority of cases we have heard about people are being disallowed. This is then followed by an appeals process which can take up to six months. Although the claimant can continue to claim benefits, during the appeal it is reduced,” she said.