Troubled workplace capability assessment (WCA) supplier Atos Healthcare has warned MPs it did not think its successor would fare any better unless there were real changes.
Speaking at the Work and Pensions Committee into the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Work Capability Assessments (WCA,) Lisa Coleman, senior vice president at Atos Healthcare said that the firm had been a "lightening rod" to public criticism.
The Department of Work and Pensions gave Atos Healthcare the contract to administer fit-to-work assessments for sick or disabled people who are out of work, in order to gauge their eligibility for disability benefits.
However, the firm has come under fire from thousands of claimants and disabled campaigns over erroneous assessments and delays in administering benefits.
In March The Independent said The DWP had to disagree with 158,300 decisions made by Atos that people were ‘fit for work' when the department ascertained they were not. A further 600,000 people have appealed against decisions made by the government to cut their benefits; it also said.
It was confirmed in March that the provider had reached an agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions to allow it to exit from the Work Capability Assessment contract early.
Meanwhile, the firm had been halted from carrying out repeat assessments on existing claimants.
The agreement was reached with a view to a new, as yet unknown, provider taking responsibility for delivery of assessments by 2015.
Coleman also told MPs at the Select Committee that it had been increasingly difficult to distinguish between what was policy and practice.
Dame Anne Begg MP, who chaired the committee said: "Presumably the policy and practice will be the same in any new contract, it just won't have the Atos named attached to it. Do you think a new supplier would be able to come in and rise above the criticism that you as a company, Atos faced; and start from scratch?
"Or do you think there were things inherent to the design of the whole process meaning they will be open to the same criticism you were?"
Coleman responded: "I think it's very difficult and I'm not going to comment on the policy. Unless something is done around educating people what the actual operating reality of that policy is and what it means for individuals going through that - I find it difficult to see that changing the supplier will do it.
"I think it would be a real shame if moving to a new supplier wasn't taken as an opportunity to do things in a different way."
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