Lack of GPs is slowing up asessments for benefits claimants
A MAN deemed too ill to travel for his benefits assessment had his cash cut off after a year-long wait – because there is no one to carry out home checks north of the central belt.
Private firm Maximus Health and Human Services won the contract to deliver benefits checks in October 2014 after its predecessor Atos backed out. The US-owned firm assumed responsibility for health-related evaluations in March 2015 through its Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, with centres dotted around the UK. It also took charge of delivering at-home checks for those unable to travel for the essential screenings.
Yesterday it admitted almost 4,000 Scots are waiting for their assessments but defended its services after it emerged that ill and disabled people living above the central belt are forced to endure lengthy waits because the company has not appointed GPs north of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The issue came to light after one man on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had his benefits cut off when he was not seen in time.
According to rules drawn up by the Department of Work and Pensions, ESA is paid to those found to have an “illness, health condition or disability that makes it difficult or impossible to work”. Recipients placed in the work-related activity group receive up to £102.15 per week and are given help with “things like job goals and improving your skills”. This lasts for a maximum period of one year, after which claimants can be put into the “support” category, which pays benefits without a time limit – as long as an assessment has approved this.
The claimant, from Aberdeenshire, applied for support in March 2015 and was given the green light for a home visit in June after he was ruled to be unable to travel to a Maximus centre. However, the man, who does not want to be identified, is still waiting to be seen after a nine-month wait – which has also pushed him over the 12-month cut-off. And without the home assessment, he cannot move over to the support group that would allow the welfare payments to continue.
Yesterday a spokesperson for the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments blamed a six-figure case backlog inherited from Atos for causing delays.
However, he also confirmed that there are no locally based medics approved to carry out the crucial checks, telling The National: “When we took over the contract to carry out disability benefit assessments in March 2015, we inherited a backlog of 550,000 cases and we are pleased to have made significant progress in reducing this number, which now stands below 100,000 GB-wide.
“The equivalent figure for the whole of Scotland is now fewer than 4,000 cases. Because of the geographical nature of the Highlands and Islands we send doctors based in Glasgow and Edinburgh to carry out assessments there. There are no restrictions on doctors travelling to these areas but inevitably people living there have slightly longer waiting times for an assessment. We are fully focused on trying to clear the case backlog in the rural areas of Scotland as quickly as we can.”
When Maximus was awarded the three-year contract, chief executive Richard Montoni said assessments should be “timely, respectful and fair”and outlined a plan to “reduce waiting times without compromising quality by bringing in more health care professionals”.
However, in January the National Audit Office (NAO) found the number of completed assessments is below target even though the cost to the taxpayer is expected to reach £579million in 2016-17 – twice that of 2014-15