For the last couple of days I have been reading about the sad death of Michael O’Sullivan, the disabled man who killed himself after being found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and the coroner’s report which criticised this decision. After all that reading, I have a question I need to ask about the whole situation.
Not why did Mr O’Sullivan feel he had no option but to kill himself. That is something for people who are far more qualified than me to discuss. No, what I want to know is, why was the doctor, the one at ATOS who was assessing Mr O’Sullivan on his fitness to work, actually the person who was assessing him?
Mr O’Sullivan was someone who had been deemed, by his own medical specialists and consultants, as being unfit for work due to the severity of his mental health condition. He had been diagnosed with clinical depression, a panic disorder, anxiety and agoraphobia, all serious mental health conditions. The doctor at ATOS who conducted his Work Capability Assessment, the doctor the that would make the decision that would cause Mr O’Sullivan to believe he had no other option but to kill himself, was an orthopedic surgeon.
To me, that just does not make sense.
What qualifies a surgeon, who specialises in on operating on people who have medical conditions involving bones and muscles, to decide whether a man who has well recognised and diagnosed mental health issues is fit for work? A man who was being treated, by specialists, for mental health issues, not for problems with his skeleton.
Mental health and physical health are two different things. That’s why we have specialists.
If you had broken your leg badly in a road traffic accident, and needed to have an operation to insert a metal plate and screws to secure the bones in your leg, would you be happy if you found out that the person performing the required surgery was a psychiatrist? Wouldn’t you question why this was happening? Wouldn’t you ask for someone who might actually be better qualified to undertake the work, more experienced in what could go wrong, to be the one that wielded the scalpel? If you had been diagnosed with cancer, wouldn’t you want someone who had undertaken extra training in that particular disease, a professional who had worked with people who had cancer on a regular basis, to be the person who treated you? As someone who has experienced cancer personally, I know I would.
As far as I am concerned, this is the question that needs answering and the situation that should never happen again. Sick and disabled people nationwide are being signed off as unfit for work by medical specialists that know them and understand their particular conditions. Surely the best people Atos and its successor, Maximus, could use to make a secondary assessment, for welfare benefit purposes, on whether or not someone should be deemed as ready to go back to work, would be a medical professional with some understanding and proven expertise in that particular individual’s actual health condition. Surely the best person to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be someone who knew what they were talking about.
I would like to see the service provided on behalf the Government and the Department of Work and Pensions, by Atos and Maximus, being re-evaluated and re-assessed. I would like to see doctors who actually have some understanding of particular medical conditions being the ones who make these life changing decisions. I would like ‘Fit for Work’ assessments to be proper, considered assessments, not merely box-ticking exercises. I would like to see the doctors who are undertaking those assessments being doctors who actually having some expertise in the medical conditions they are assessing.
Maximus needs a ‘Fit for Work’ assessment of it’s own and, until that happens, and changes are made, it should suspend all of its activities for the health and safety of sick and disabled people nationwide. The sooner this happens the better.
What happened to Mr O’Sullivan was frightening and wrong and something needs to be done as quickly, as possible, to ensure that it never happens again.