Thanks are due once again to John Pring at the Disability News Service, for finding a direct relationship between the death of former benefit claimant Michael O’Sullivan and the philosophy behind the benefit-restriction regime that found him “fit for work” when he was, in fact, suicidal.
At his inquest in early 2014, the doctor who assessed Mr O’Sullivan as “fit for work” admitted that he had not asked whether the deceased had suicidal thoughts because he “looked okay”. He said although Mr O’Sullivan had looked “a bit stressed”, this was normal for people who claimed they were depressed, and was a sign that they were worried they might lose their benefits.
He went on to say ESA claimants sometimes fake their symptoms when asked that question in assessments.
In some ways it may be just as well that Mr O’Sullivan was not asked about suicidal thoughts, because we know the next question would have been “Why haven’t you acted on those thoughts?” – or words to that effect.
The philosophy that informs all of this behaviour had its origins in the ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’ conference held near Oxford in November 2001, when people like Mansel Aylward, then-chief medical officer for the Department for Work and Pensions, and John LoCascio, of the criminal American insurance giant Unum, persuaded fellow attendees that many claimants of incapacity benefits had become “malingerers” due to the generosity of the payments then offered by the system – payments none of these people were ever likely to have needed, which had in fact lost value over the time period mentioned.
They presented a case for treating all future claimants of sickness benefits as bogus until proven otherwise – and it is this model that informed the introduction of Employment and Support Allowance in 2008.
The Atos doctor was merely reacting in line with the instructions he had received from his employers – who had in turn received theirs from the DWP.
There is no medical evidence to support the ‘malingering and illness deception’ claims.
Michael O’Sullivan’s daughter, Anne-Marie, has described the evidence given at the inquest by the former orthopaedic surgeon who assessed her father in March 2013, on behalf of the government contractor Atos Healthcare.
During his evidence, the assessor admitted that he had not asked O’Sullivan whether he had suicidal thoughts, because he thought he “looked OK”.
The Atos doctor, who said he had worked for the company for 15 years, wrote in three places on the WCA form that O’Sullivan had “no ideas of self-harm”, even though he had failed to ask him this question and O’Sullivan had made it clear on the pre-assessment form that he had suicidal thoughts.
O’Sullivan’s GP, psychiatrist and psychologist all gave evidence to the inquest to say that he had been showing obvious signs of depression and anxiety.
But the Atos doctor claimed that although O’Sullivan had looked “a bit stressed”, this was perfectly normal for people who claimed they were depressed, and was just a sign that they were worried about losing their benefits.
And when asked why he failed to ask O’Sullivan if he had had any suicidal thoughts, he suggested that ESA claimants sometimes fake their symptoms when asked that question in assessments.
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