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Editor's blog Tuesday 30 August 2011: Atos Healthcare's action against CarerWatch discussion forum

The French multinational Atos are key players in the Department for Work and Pensions' disability assessment / return to work programme.


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The House Of Commons' Work And Pensions Select Committee looked at Atos' performance in this report from July, which concludes "many claimants have not received the level of service from Atos which they can reasonably expect.

"We remain concerned about whether there are sufficient levers within the DWP contract with Atos to ensure that Atos consistently gets the assessment right first time. We therefore recommend that, when the contract is re-let in 2015 and in future contracts for other medical assessments, DWP reviews the performance indicators, with significant financial penalties built in if standards are not met.

"We agree with the Minister that it would not have been practical to introduce a second provider for the IB reassessment but we believe that the Government should consider contracting a second provider to deliver the ongoing Work Capability Assessments for new ESA claims when the reassessment of existing claimants has been completed, in order to drive up performance through competition" (paras 92-4).

Now you might reasonably conclude that if a Commons select committee had said that about your organisation, then it would be a not-wholly-unwise strategy to avoid acting in a overbearing or heavy-handed manner.

Atos appear not quite to have adopted this strategy.

Community Care magazine's Mithran Samuel reports on Atos's actions in getting the web hosting company of the CarerWatch forum discussion group to take their website offline.

You can also read this email message from the organiser of the CarerWatch forum to Atos on the Community Care blog.

Assuming that the facts as stated are true, then Atos were objecting to the presence of a five-month-old hyperlink on the discussion forum, which linked to a news report hosted on another website, which at the time of correspondence between CarerWatch and Atos, was still there.

British libel laws are famously generous to successful claimants (and French courts award relatively small sums).

We can firstly assume that if Atos deem such action as this appropriate against an organisation which merely discussed public domain material, then Atos will undoubtedly be pursuing legal action against the publisher of that material, of which we shall hear more. (The only drawback of that would, of course, be if said publisher has the money to fight Atos.)

We can secondly assume that Atos' choice to go directly to the website hosting company to have the site taken down, without having contacted the CarerWatch forum directly to raise their concerns (CarerWatch is a not-for-profit, non-political members-only discussion group, with a clear 'contact' link on the site), then Atos are either indifferent or relaxed about how their conduct comes over - conduct which smacks of heavy-handed, illiberal over-reaction.

Which, given the sensitivity of the work that the Government has commissioned Atos to do, might be a bit of a concern.