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20 June 2014 | Gurjit Degun
Atos Healthcare has been accused of including “incorrect and potentially misleading information” in its bid for a government contract.
The allegations are made in a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a means-tested benefit for people with a long-term ill-health condition or disability.
The PAC said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rushed to introduce the PIP in April last year without piloting the process. The DWP contracted Atos and Capita Health and Wellbeing to assess claimants’ needs.
By October 2013, the department had only made 16 per cent of the decisions it had expected to have made by that time. Between April and October 2013, £800,000 service credits accrued against Atos and £200,000 against Capita, for their failures to achieve performance levels they had agreed with the department. The DWP postponed assessments when it realised that claimants already faced long delays, and that significant backlogs had developed.
The report added: “Capita told us it had invested about 50 per cent more resources than it had initially planned, to improve performance and that it had made improvements.”
PAC chairman Margaret Hodge said: “The department’s failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong.
“We are concerned that Atos appears to have included incorrect and potentially misleading information in its bid for the contract. Atos stated in its tender document that it had ‘contractual agreements’ in place with a national network of 56 NHS hospitals, 25 private hospitals and over 650 physiotherapy practices to provide assessments. This turned out not to be true.
“We would have expected the department to have exercised particular caution in letting this contact, given the poor performance of Atos on Work Capability Assessments. The department must take into account previous performance on similar work when running a procurement.”
An Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “The department made clear that they were not misinformed during the tender process, that at the point of going live they knew our capacity, our partners and the number of centres we would be using. We completely refute any allegation of misinformation during the procurement process for PIP. Not only have we written to the committee to clarify our position but we invited the National Audit Office (NAO) in to scrutinise our documentation.
“That we could not have binding contracts in place before we signed a contract with the DWP is simply common sense and in no way misleading. What we did have were detailed written proposals from the suppliers.”
A Capita spokesman added: "We are focused on overcoming outstanding assessments as soon as possible and are working closely together with the department to adapt and improve the service. We have invested in recruiting and training more staff, opened up more clinics and have extended the hours assessments are carried out."
Minister of state for disabled people Mike Penning said: "The PAC report is based on old statistics. I have introduced a faster process for people with terminal illnesses, with clearance times reducing to our target of 10 days. The NAO report published in February acknowledged this reform started on time and on budget, and we have reduced risk by rolling it out in phases.”