A local woman has said she was shocked at witnessing disabled people in distress after they arrived to find their PIP medical assessments in Derry cancelled.
The woman, who supports people with Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessment panels, expressed concerns over what she witnessed at the Capita PIP Assessment Centre on Strand Road in Derry during one day earlier this month.
She said: “I was only in the reception area for 10 minutes, five minutes either side of supporting somebody with their assessment, and a number of people turned up, one in a wheelchair, one in a walking frame and another who was visibly depressed.
“They were all told their assessments had been cancelled. It seemed the assessors weren’t there. At that point people were quite distressed.
“The staff did apologise and told the people that they did try to contact them; they had texted one person the day before and then these people were asked for their details and National Insurance Number. I could hear one person’s details very clearly. This was in the reception area and the staff didn’t seem to acknowledge the distress these people displayed. I was appalled.”
The support worker said that having worked with various people going for assessments, she was well aware of the anxiety the period leading up to it can cause.
“They feel they are about to get interrogated,” she said. “It is very stressful for people. They are also told if they don’t turn up, their benefits are immediately cut and yet they are able to phone you up and cancel and maybe someone couldn’t get to the phone or didn’t hear the phone or is not able to answer it. It felt very flippant, the unequal treatment of people and there was no offer to reimburse taxis or travel. There didn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of any responsibility.
“I came away thinking, this is awful and wondering how common is this practise?”
A spokesperson for Capita responded: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP and take care to protect their details. We apologise to anyone affected by a late cancellation.
“We make every effort to tell people in advance if an appointment is cancelled, however, on very rare occasions we are unable to make contact. Over the last six months, the average number of appointments cancelled in Northern Ireland when someone has arrived for an assessment was five a month, less than one per cent of the 3,000 clinic appointments over the same period.”