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NHS could take over Work Capability Assessments from Atos – Laws

The NHS could take over the controversial Work Capability Assessments when Atos stops performing the tests next year, a leading Liberal Democrat MP has suggested.

David Laws, MP for Yeovil and a minister at both the education department and the Cabinet Office, made the suggestion yesterday and it is to be included in the list of possible manifesto policies the Liberal Democrats will debate at their autumn conference next month.

Work Capability Assessments, also known as ‘fit to work’ tests, have proven hugely controversial and unpopular, with thousands of vulnerable people being wrongly judged to be fit for work. It was announced in March that Atos would quit their contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) a year early and would make “substantial” financial settlements to the government.

Laws, who is in charge of his party’s ‘pre-manifesto’, has admitted that the work of Atos has been “unacceptable” and that another private contractor may not be the answer: “We have big concerns about the way the assessments have been carried out,” he said. “We want to test the option of bringing these back in house, as well as using private sector providers.

“We’re willing to look at that, if that is what it takes to get this right.”

However Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, believes that the problem is not with the organisation that carries out the assessments, but with the government policy that requires them.

“The existing Work Capability Assessment is deeply unfair for people with mental illness,” he told PSE. “It demands that people who are extremely unwell must explain their condition to a stranger at a one-off assessment, and gather medical evidence to support their case. Face-to-face assessments provide only a ‘snapshot’ of that person’s situation, and many of the health professionals carrying out the assessments have little or no expertise in mental health.

“As a result, many people with severe mental health problems are wrongly losing vital support as a result. Until this process is changed, it will continue to unfairly penalise some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society.”

(Image: c. Nick Ansell/PA Wire)

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