Disability assessments chaotic and unfair, says ex-nurse whistleblower
A former nurse who assessed claimants for the controversial Personal Independence Payment scheme has claimed that the system is in chaos.
The whistleblower, who worked for Capita, says she quit her post because she felt that people seeking the benefit were not being given a fair deal.
In her role as a disability assessor (DA), she was tasked with gathering evidence to help decide whether applicants were fit for work or entitled to benefits.
The former staff member claimed there were major inconsistencies in the feedback to the DAs and those writing paper-based reports (PBRs), which made guidelines for assessment of claimants, in her opinion, "blurred and confusing".
The woman, who did not wish to be identified, said: "I knew from the start there would be problems.
"I did not feel that the initial training course for the PBR writing role properly prepared me for my new role."
The former assessor said that as a result, she and other colleagues found it hard to complete the PBRs properly and that they complained to management.
She also said that she raised issues about reports which she felt were not fit for purpose. "In some instances I felt that the advice offered by the report writers and their clinical coaches was unjustified," the former nurse added. "I was overruled on every occasion."
She also claimed there was a serious lack of consistency between and within departments: "In my experience, each practitioner interpreted the PIP guide in their own way and it caused significant problems for practitioners across the board.
"The lack of consistency made everyday work very difficult for many of us and in many instances had a negative impact on many analysts. It made working life very difficult."
The former assessor said that she eventually decided to resign because she felt that her professional reputation was at risk.
"I know many other healthcare professionals who also resigned due to similar difficulties," she added.
"The place is in chaos. I certainly wouldn't want my mother or father to go through the PIP process. It is not fair."
In a statement, Capita rejected the claims, saying that the PIP assessment was not a medical assessment, rather an exercise to gather factual information about the impact of a person's impairment or health condition.
A spokesperson said: "Our disability assessors are healthcare professionals with the required skills and knowledge to carry out functional-based PIP assessments across Northern Ireland, in line with guidance set by the Department for Communities.
"We are committed to delivering accurate and high-quality reports and conduct our assessments in a professional and empathetic manner and have a strong continuous professional development programme to support our healthcare professionals."
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: "The department expects the highest standards from Capita, who deliver the PIP assessment service. Capita have to conform to a rigorous set of quality standards set down by the department. Part of the department's contractual arrangements with Capita include a requirement to have robust auditing mechanisms in place, which Capita have to adhere to.
"Capita complete their audits in advance of the assessment reports being submitted to the department.
"The department has recruited health professionals who are responsible for conducting independent audits of this."