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The Kingdom of ATOS

Today I had my ATOS assessment. This is my story.

I arrived at the door and pressed the buzzer to gain ingress into the Kingdom of Atos. The stern reply asked me to identify myself only to be told my appointment was cancelled the day before. I am given permission to enter the strange and secret world within, hopefully to get an explanation at least.

Upstairs I find the receptionist has the wrong person's file. A cursory examination of the letter I'm visibly clutching would reveal the mistake. Instead the receptionist is in a bad mood; combative, moody and defensive. Apparently she spoke to me yesterday; I dare to correct her. She insists; again I retort; then an explanation: “I think you’ve got the wrong person.” Indeed.

Turns out she’s reading a file belonging to someone named similarly. Not quite sure why we have gotten off on this foot; she offers a rather pinch faced 'apology' of the kind that begins and ends, "I do apologise sir". In other words too formal. I say “no problem”, I’m a little short of breath; it’s warm and I’m rather tense. In fact I’m very tense. Fortunately there are only a couple of people in the waiting room, one of whom gets called in fairly quickly.

In order to gain entrance to the Kingdom of Atos one must bring three magic scrolls to prove one's identity to the great gods within. As luck would have it the supporting material I am carrying supplements the dog eared birth certificate that passes for the only formal paperwor I ownk. I’m not entirely sure what happens when the border agents of the Kingdom aren’t satisfied; presumably one's journey comes to a rather abrupt and inconclusive end. No thank you. I sign the form that heralds my arrival and am casually informed there is a MASSIVE FUCKING DELAY and that I will likely have to wait over an hour. The Kingdom is short staffed.

Now, look, this is patently ridiculous and it’s not helped by having to deal with stroppy receptionists. I’m getting very frustrated with this and I find it rather easy to tell her this as she incorrectly observes that I’m being rude. Apparently querying her mistakes and not accepting her apologies with regal and saintly grace isn’t enough. Delays are one thing: who has ever seen their GP on time? Certainly not me, but it’s a short walk to my doctors which is a much more suitable environment occupied by objective supportive NHS (for now) doctors, not ‘healthcare professionals’ and their mardy subordinates!Who's to say if I'd had to rebook my appointment I wouldn't again have a MASSIVE FUCKING DELAY?

As i take my seat the next patient arrives, an older woman with an eastern European accent and a visibly uncomfortable gait. Clearly she’s not well. She arrives ten minutes after me, and at this point there is only one person ahead of me, a lady with a leg problem I assume as she has her legs resting on another chair. I can’t really hear their conversation but it’s a similar thing (though less acerbic given that the older lady isn’t a troublemaker like me) – she has to choose to either wait forever or rebook. On top of this, the receptionist says that if you’re experiencing any kind of discomfort you’d have to rebook as they aren’t equipped to deal with people in pain, what with all the healthcare professionals around.

The waiting area is not really geared for this: it’s a small (rather warm) room with a water machine and some reasonably comfy chairs; no special support of any kind. This might seem picky, but I suspect making people potentially wait all day is not uncommon: are they equipped to deal with sick people having long to wait? Would they offer travel recompense to people unable to wait? I do know that that if you want your expenses paid you have to apply there and then and wait for at least a couple of weeks for them to send you a cheque. The Kingdom is cashless.

I forgot to mention: just prior to the subsequent patient’s arrival the stroppy receptionist calls me over to query something. Turns out, and for the first time IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, my signature is suspect: it appears the one I just provided does not match (according to her) the signature on my ESA50 form. Suddenly this receptionist betrays her past as Moneypenny; extraordinary! I am rather taken aback and relate the above point to her at which point she has another flounce “oh it doesn’t matter”. So what's the problem then? I give another signature; even though this signature doesn’t match the signature that didn't match...

So I’m looking at a long wait when the receptionist decides that actually I’m going to be seen in the next couple of minutes. Great, but… huh? Turns out the poor woman before me needs to be seen by a particularly specialised not-a-doctor who is assessing some other poor sod and that’s going to take a long time. For all I know, as I write this, she could be still there, waiting; the lonely ghost of ATOS.

Ok, that’s enough of the silly stuff, let’s get on to the assessment itself, and quickly. There isn’t really much to tell at this point. The whole experience is, to coin a phrase, a game of two halves: dealing with the receptionist is one thing, but the assessment is another matter entirely, conducted by someone with a more plesant demeanour. However, attitude isn't really what's important.

I take a somewhat fatalistic attitude toward all this; I don’t imagine I’m going to pass and I saw no point in engaging in subterfuge. It’s too much effort to concoct some bizarre story like I’m back at school trying to duck out of lessons through a convoluted story. This may well work against me, but given that people that are dying are being found fit for work I don’t think it would have made a jot of difference short of swallowing a dose of arsenic beforehand.

The assessment is a strange beast: it felt very casual. It’s not a medical process at all. These people are not doctors, no matter their previous and undisclosed lives. It’s all so…surreal and so…pointless; there's no diagnosis involved at all so they cannot know whether you legitimately have a problem. Instead it's based on conventional wisdom: so if you have the classic bad back you are going to struggle to convince someone you aren't swinging the lead because back pain is conventionally regarded as less severe.

It’s like having a conversation about your health with an acquaintance and listening to quackery or old wives tales. I told her about my hypoglycaemia and she said “ooh I’m the same”. It’s not a medical assessment; she is not a dietician, a doctor, an optician, nor a psychiatrist. Yet the assessment touches on all these things in so casual a way as to be meaningless. Behind her innocent fa├žade could have beat the heart of a demon – and if it did, well too bad for me I guess! I presented my case, gave her a letter from the Positive Step people and left it at that.

I wonder if this is the picture readers were expecting: a tale of woe and struggle with the hated machine that is ATOS. In truth this whole WCA situation is too surreal to be taken seriously. I feel somewhat punch drunk; I’ve had to wait months for this appointment to come around. I’ve no idea whether I’ll have to wait months more for a decision. Even then that’s only the start of it all; I will have to decide whether to pursue a tribunal and get the GP to agree to more notes throughout, or deal with JSA again and the consequences that entails on the Work Programme.

ATOS is completely unsuited to this task. In fact any private IT company run for profit would be; what else can we expect? The real culprits beyond an organisation utterly unsuited to dealing with the sick and the disabled (never mind their anxiety) are the DWP. It is they that set the targets we all know exist, even if ATOS are wilfully compliant. It is they that make the final decision based on the same agenda: reduce the benefits bill.

Interestingly the assessor used the phrase “it’s the decision maker that decides what benefit you are suited to”. Of course that’s not quite true: they will not adjust your benefit, for example taking you off ESA and then putting you on JSA. They simply cut your ESA and leave you to either fend for yourself or go through the rigmarole of making a fresh JSA claim. Perhaps if they could simply change your benefit it might be easier – certainly it would save us and them a lot of hassle given the inevitably of the outcome of their decision making.

These assessments should be carried out be the NHS: by your GP or if he deems necessary by referral to specialists in such areas as mental health or bad backs or whatever it might be. That referral process could and should be supported and the assessments would be fair compassionate and objective, no matter how polite a healthcare professional might be. Why are we paying for this superfluous level of admin, overseen by people totally unsuited to the work at hand? It is a waste of everyone’s time and money and is clearly leading to devastating consequences particularly if you don’t happen to see a friendly and polite HCP. It is entirely likely that I had a less malevolent experience, compared to some, because they didn’t think my issues were remotely severe (which doesn’t bode well for me). It may well be that the more complex the conditions the more this process and their expertise crumbles.

We shouldn’t need this surreal process: sitting in an office and being medically examined in a non medical way using a non medical process by a non medical person, no matter how polite. This is the most bizarre set up imaginable; it’s like a cross between a GP’s waiting room, an airport flight lounge and the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks! GP’s shouldn’t have to write sick notes pretending they are fit notes and patients shouldn’t have to traipse across the county to appointments they shouldn’t need. All of this could be done by that thing we used to have in this country…the NHS. The doctors whose opinions once meant something before everyone got greedy. I want to be angry, but really I’m beyond that with this system. Maybe if I was in one of the more unfortunate and desperate cases that ATOS seems to unfailingly let down, like Linda Wooten. It’s almost farcical; a tragic comedy.


  1. I'm glad you've got it behind you, at any rate. The receptionist sounds like a nightmare - it wouldn't surprise me if her attitude was deliberate. When told they had no facilities to deal with those in pain, I like to think I would have been tempted towards extreme sarcasm, which would have seen me escorted from the building.

    I do think we've gone beyond adjectives like Kafkaesque or Pinteresque. Those are 20th century concepts with at least a veneer of design behind them, however malevolent. I think we're back to the middle ages. As you know the quackery of the bio-psycho-social model developed by Unum operates thus - you are fit to work until you die and if you die then you can't have been fit for work. But dead people claim nothing and cost nothing. I see little difference between this and the medieval practice ducking suspected witches - if she lives she's a witch; if she dies she was innocent.

    1. Thanks. She was just a little hitler; queen bee of her sad little world. I think I said something along the lines of "well i'm very sorry this is all such an inconvenience to you". A proper little passive aggressive retort. I wasn't really angry at her, I half expected silly bureacracy, it's just the tediousness of it all and the total lack of any flexibility.

      We're in an age of essentially mob rule: people just don't think for themselves anymore. It is the ultimate bureacracy. They don't consider whether people even have 3 forms of identity/passport, yet they demand this. When I see a GP i'm not asked for 3 forms of ID and when they sent my ESA50 form they didn't ask me to provide evidence I was the correct person to have filled it in. Even so, she was responsible for the initial identity crisis with a scowl of suspicion on her face absolutely convinced I was the person she was incorrectly referring to.

      The whole test is so ridiculous. I have no doubt i will fail; killed by kindness you might say! The assessor was lovely and friendly but that doesn't hide the failings of this system; as they are not doctors they don't have access to your medical records but want me to recant what happened many years ago in certain situations or what antidepressants i was prescribed in 2008. I can't remember. I mentioned how tired my eyes get (really tired, as in: if i had to work on a pc all day i would really struggle), but she wasn't a qualified optician and I didn't undergo a qualified optician test. I read a sentence from a laminated page in as small a font as I could manage and read off those eye charts with the lettes decreasing in size at the wrong (ie too close) distance, so it was easier.

      None of this is representative, but that's the whole problem. This test is based on the everyday assumptions that, because work is improtant, people must be well...because work is important. If you struggle..oh dear. They take an ill informed snapshot that, in lieu of knowing what she wrote, could well be riddled with that prejudice. They wanted a potted history of my issues and conditions, but that isn't representative of how i am and what problems I have anymore than an eye test so glib and brief noone could fail.

      All of this could be done at the GP's surgery for much less grief and much less public expense by trained persons. They could also use that opportunity to signpost you to proper support (which shoudl be available but that's another issue) and facilitate whatever benefit/non benefit help you need. But we hold benefits at arms length, like picking up a smelly sock, and don't like having to interact with it thereby making the lives of those that need support much more difficult. Much easier to call them scroungers.

      None of which begins to address the problem of how people abandoned from ESA are going to ever find work.

    2. It's amazing how many of these people are pleasant to talk to. I had a manager like that when I was in the Civil Service - talked to me one to one as an equal, almost like a friend. Then one day, because we were short-staffed, I was asked to type up the minutes of a management meeting and I couldn't believe the stuff she'd been coming out with - she'd been arguing against giving temporary low-paid staff a £25 bonus for their year's work because they were "valueless" and "didn't think outside the box." bla bla. I never spoke to her again.

      All of these people are bastards behind closed doors.

      What is really worrying is that disabled and depressed people will eventually come under the sanctions regime; and that regime is deeply unpleasant. It's all very well to talk about helping people into work; but if all they're really doing is whipping people into applying for the few jobs there are, under pain of destitution, then I can't see very many having the resources to cope with that. It's a very different environment - one of accusation and punishment. Sometimes it feels like you're being punished just for being alive.

      This is a war against the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed - we are the enemy within - a useful scapegoat while the banks and corporations can loot the country. It will go on and on until there is nothing left to take except our lives, and they will take those to get the ground we would otherwise occupy, and the air we dare to breath.

    3. It is pure divide and rule. Never get ideas above your station because then you'll look up to see how much the people above you are exploiting you for.

      Keep people poor, keep them compliant.

  2. I'd like to mirror the comment above; the whole system seems set up to ensure you fail and are found "fit for work" no matter what. But at least that ordeal is over now, all that's left is to wait for (yet another) brown envelope. I hope it's good news!

    As for medieval justice, well if I was in that position I'd at least like to be given the option of "trial by battle". Let me loose on IDS and co...

    1. One part of the ordeal ends, the next begins. In many ways this is the start of it all. Having to deal with persuading my GP to support me through the process of waiting for the decision will have to occur on Monday. If he refuses, which he could, I'm screwed. My GP really doesn't understand any of this and, like most reasonable people, can't comprehend the unreasonable nature of it all. Consequently people like me are just viewed with suspicion - because of course all this is to help us. Of course it isn't at all but noone likes to hear some sort of amatuer socialist/conspiracy nonsense. Even then I have no idea how long the decision will taike to come through and whether i would be supported through any tribunal.

      The whole point of this is to gain access to the right avenue of supprot which I believe to be the WRAG. I don't consider myself worthy of the full support group (and there's absolutely ZERO chance of ever reaching that). I've been told by the WOrk Programme that if i end up back on JSA, aside from having to deal with the stress of the jobcentre, they would have to be strict with me. ESA allows them, apparently, a lot more latitude.

      In reality the WP is complete crap either way and the WRAG is probably just as stressful as JSA - and it's time limited to a year. There is no ideal outcome, just less shitty outcomes. I would gladly forego the extra few quid from ESA if it meant not having to deal with JSA again (i'd get the same amoutn of money, what difference would it make to IDS?). But that kind of discussion and negotiation is completely beyond this ridiculous divisive and prejudiced system, overseen by out of touch fraudsters.

  3. I have noticed a lot of people in atos and other places from my own experience and others, the interviewers always have what you have or their kids or a close family member, when you know its unlikely they would have it

    1. They think it's a casual conversation, not a proper diagnostic process.


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