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Atos seeks early exit from 'fit to work' assessment contract

Privateer blames 'abuse' from disabled people for its decision — despite being branded 'unacceptable' by the government

Atos healthcare has indicated it is planning an early exit from its multi-million pound contract to assess disabled people’s benefits, just days after a national protest against the firm.

The company — which assesses whether disabled people are “fit for work” — confirmed yesterday that it has been in discussions “for several months” about ending its £500m million contract due to run out in August next year.

It claims the decision to consider pulling out comes as a result of persistant death threats, assaults and abuse against its staff, both in person and online, alleging that it recorded around 163 incidents a month last year.

But Disabled People Against Cuts spokesman Adam Lotun argued that Atos “are jumping before they are pushed” and accused the company of trying to spin its way out of a PR disaster.

“They are over-egging the fact that disabled people are angry at having their benefits withdrawn and spinning it on their terms when all disabled people are doing is standing up for themselves,” he told the Star.

Mr Lotun believes both Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which developed the work capability assessments together, are distancing themselves from each other.

Relations with the DWP appear to be close to breakdown amid persistent criticism over the quality of Atos’s assessments.

Last summer it was announced that the company had been instructed to implement a “quality improvement plan” following an “unacceptable” deterioration in the quality of its written reports.

At the same time the DWP said it would be seeking to bring in additional providers in order to increase capacity and cut waiting times.

“The fact is that the DWP are planning to sack Atos from the contract this month,” Mr Lotun believes. “So they are jumping on their sword before they are pushed.

“They cannot cope with the pressures and the action taken against them.

“We know the DWP have lined up the usual suspects — Capita and G4S — to take over the contracts but the fact is that it does not need to be farmed out to private companies and consultants with no medical experience or relationship with patients.

“The whole process would be better-served carried out by the NHS.”

The DWP refused to comment on its discussions with Atos.

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