“It raises some important issues around transparency in the tendering of public services by the DWP and their management of these contracts.
“Atos have already been shown to have made dubious claims in respect of the PIP assessment bid. This would appear to be another example of that.”
In the tender document, submitted to DWP in May 2012, the company states that it has prepared an “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which will provide sites where assessments will take place.
But in the months after it was awarded the contract – last July – to assess claimants in London and across the south of England, 12 of the NHS trusts and both of the private healthcare providers walked away from the venture.
By January this year, three months before DWP began trialling the new assessments for PIP – the replacement for working-age disability living allowance – Atos was left with just four NHS trusts and the four physiotherapy providers.
In the tender document, Atos states clearly several times that the 22 sub-contractors it is working with will carry out assessments if it is awarded the contract.
Among these firm pledges, Atos states: “Each partner has contractually agreed to providing accommodation to the required specification.”
It also says: “We conducted an evaluation process, including site visits, to select the PIP consultation locations of the highest quality. This has allowed us to identify sufficient, suitable accommodation, ready for go live and available for the length of the contract.”
It adds: “The NHS locations will be provided by [a list of the trusts]… BMI and Spire will provide the private hospital accommodation… and the physiotherapy practices will be managed by…”
It also stresses the importance of NHS locations, which it says are “often at the centre of established transfer links”, and will “assist in not highlighting the fact that a benefit assessment is being carried out”.
And it estimates that its “hyper-local” service will mean that no claimant will have to travel more than 60 minutes by public transport to attend an assessment.
But a whole string of the NHS trusts told DNS this week that they had certainly not “contractually agreed” with Atos to provide assessment sites, despite the statements in the tender document.
A spokesman for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We never got that involved at all. They put our name in the tender document, although they shouldn’t have done. I think they emailed us, but we said, ‘No, we are not interested.’”