Leading North East mental health charity welcomes MP's intervention on work capability assessments

Release date: 16 May 2013

Mental Health North East (MHNE) has welcomed the intervention of Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, in the debate on mental health held today (May 16) in the House of Commons.

Mr Jones raised the charity's concerns that the work capability assessments (WCAs) carried out for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by Atos are still not suitable for people with mental health problems.

"Mental Health North East is deeply concerned about the impact of Atos WCAs, which we believe are not fit for purpose for people with mental health problems," said Lyn Boyd, CEO MHNE

"We are inundated with requests for help from people across the North East who are terrified of these assessments to the extent that their mental health problems have worsened, and in some cases they are suicidal. We have had to offer our staff suicide prevention training to deal with these types of calls.

"We have been working hard for months, on behalf of our members, to raise our concerns about the effectiveness and accountability of Mental Function Champions (MFCs), who were introduced by government to improve the assessment process for people with mental ill health.

"We would like to know what government intends to do to ensure that the recommendations of the Harrington Review, which it accepted, are properly implemented and monitored. And we would also like to know why the government thinks it is acceptable that MFCs are not accountable to the DWP, who in 2011-12 paid its contractor, Atos Healthcare, £112.4 million to carry out work capability assessments.

"There must be accountability on behalf of the DWP to ensure that the current failing process is scrutinised and to put a stop to the unnecessary suffering these assessments are causing.

"Kevan Jones MP has enabled us to progress with this issue by asking parliament questions on our behalf and by raising our issues in the parliament mental health debate today and we are grateful for his support."

Kevan Jones MP, said: "The way people with mental health conditions are being assessed by Atos is inefficient, costly and causing real distress for those with mental health issues."

"MHNE has raised serious issues about the effectiveness and accountability of the Mental Function Champions announced following the Harrington review.

"Work is good for people's mental health but it is now time to take people with mental health conditions out of the Work Capability Assessment process and deal with them separately.

"They need to be assessed by qualified mental health professionals and given appropriate support."


Notes to editors

1. MHNE is a coalition of hundreds of third sector and voluntary organisations that provide mental health services in the north east of England.

2. MHNE and many other VCS organisations are continuing to experience high demand for support and help from distressed members of the public and mental health service users, who are experiencing either an exacerbation of their existing mental health problems, or in some cases they are developing mental ill health following Atos/DWP WCAs and Employment and Support Allowance appeals.

3. This increased demand is happening at a time when funding to both statutory and voluntary services is being reduced due to austerity measures and unfair cuts to services.

4. MHNE and Launchpad (An organisation made up of people who use mental health services in and around Newcastle upon Tyne) recently met with the DWP and Atos (April 23) to find out how the implementation of Mental Function Champions (recommended by Professor Harrington's second review) has improved the WCA process.

Mental Function Champions are meant to be experts in mental health, whom Atos assessors can call on for help when carrying out mental health function assessments.

MHNE and Launchpad were very concerned by what they discovered at the meeting.

Key findings:

Atos and the DWP were unable to provide any specific information on how MFCs were recruited.

  • MFCs are not required to have formal qualifications in mental health. The minimum requirement is that they have some post-grad experience of mental health. (This is very vague and, in effect, a practitioner with a few weeks post grad experience in mental health could carry out the role.).
  • Training for MFCs consists of a 2 day Atos in-house training course. This training does not use the services of mental health experts, such as professional bodies or specialist organisations set up to deal with complex mental health conditions.
  • MFCs are not accountable to the DWP - they do not report to the DWP and there are no performance measures in place to monitor their effectiveness.

MHNE and Launchpad were forced to conclude that the implementation of MFCs is not being monitored sufficiently and that they are having very little, if any, positive impact on the WCA process for people with mental health problems.

5. Professor Malcolm Harrington carried out the first three annual reviews of the Work Capability Assessment. Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/simplifying-the-welfare-system-and-making-sure-work-pays/supporting-pages/improving-the-work-capability-assessment

This release was issued by Jane Byrne at The Communications Cooperative. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 07794 290 176.