An Open Letter to Atos Healthcare
General Manager for the DWP Contracts
4 Triton Square
London, NW1 3HG
Dear Ms Coleman,
We the undersigned are seriously concerned by the fact that Atos Healthcare, the provider of the Work Capability Assessment for sickness benefits, has threatened legal action against the Internet hosting companies of three websites which circulated letters from sickness benefit claimants - 'Carerwatch', 'After Atos' and 'Atos Register of Shame' (now relaunched as 'A### the Truth').
These websites have given members of society who are often isolated and have traditionally found it difficult to take joint action, the chance to come together and share their experiences. We find it unacceptable that a large IT company, which receives £100m per year for their assessment of claimants, has deployed their legal department against individuals or small organisations who dared to circulate people’s comments and concerns about their treatment at Atos’ hands.
As acknowledged by both the recent Harrington Report and the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the Work Capability Assessment implemented by Atos Healthcare was found to be mechanistic and Atos’ ‘medical reports’ far too often did not reflect circumstances and discussions that had taken place during the assessments (Harrington Report, pp. 40-41). In addition, ESA claimants have now been told that twelve doctors working for Atos face being struck off for improper conduct, and other members of Atos’ staff are under investigation over allegations of obscene criticism of benefit claimants.
Atos Healthcare has given assurances that the shortcomings identified by the Harrington Report are being addressed. Yet many claimants are still experiencing the distress of poor and rushed medical assessments based on Atos Healthcare’s computer programme.
Amid growing concern that Atos Healthcare is failing to raise its methods and professionalism to acceptable standards, the company is now attempting to silence those claimants and their small organisations who have had the courage to speak up. At a time when we see that major corporations such as News International are able to use the threat of legal action to hide their wrongdoings, it is important that Atos’ actions are brought to account.
It is also the case that government bodies are unable to sue for libel. Atos' argument is that they are taking legal action to protect their business reputation, but in this case they are performing the work of the DWP, and receiving public money for doing it.
For these reasons, we ask that Atos withdraw all threats of libel action, that they publicly guarantee that they will not in future use the libel laws to close down criticism of their practices, and that they make a public apology to those individuals and websites which they have tried to silence.
Brighton Benefits Campaign
Tony Greenstein Brighton & Hove TUC Unemployed Centre
Caroline Lucas MP
Amanda Sebestyen Writer
Paul Smith Atos Victims Group
Holly Smith (President) Brighton and Hove Trades Union Council
Brighton Keep Our NHS Public
Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition
Brighton Disabled People Against Cuts
Ipswich Unemployed Action
Disabled People Against Cuts
Southampton United for Pensions and Public Services
National Coalition for Independent Action
Redhill Coalition Against Cuts
Lewes Stop the Cuts
DLA Help Group
The Broken of Britain
Suffolk Coalition for Public Services
Newport Trades Union Council
Cornwall Anti Cuts Alliance
Cornwall Disabled People Against Cuts
Oxford Save Our Services
Kilburn Unemployed Workers