Disturbing testimony from doctors exposes the devastation wreaked by the Con-Dem Government’s attempts to slash the welfare bill.
A shock survey shows 84 per cent of GPs have patients who have suffered stress, anxiety and depression due to the humiliating work capability assessments by the French multinational company.
And a startling one fifth of doctors believe the tests are causing suicidal thoughts in their patients.
Fourteen per cent have seen evidence of people self-harming due to the stress they are under.
The results are revealed in a joint report compiled by a group of charities, including the Scottish Association for Mental Health.
The revelations come amid growing public fury about Atos, who do the tests for the Department for Work and Pensions.
The controversial firm were recently handed a contract worth more than £400million to carry out similar tests on everyone getting disabled living allowance.
They will decide if each patient should still receive help when the benefit is replaced by personal independence payments.
But the stark evidence of doctors will increase concern at the move, which critics insist is merely cover for the Coalition Government to cut welfare payments to the disabled.
The Record yesterday told how nurse Joyce Drummond claims she was forced to “trick” disabled people out of cash when carrying out the tests.
And Citizens Advice Scotland have revealed they received almost 24,000 pleas for help from Scots worried about Atos tests connected to employment support allowance.
The number has increased by 61 per cent in the last two years to become the most frequently asked-about topic in Scotland.
Labour MP Tom Greatrex insisted the assessments are damaging vulnerable people’s health.
He said: “There is clearly a problem when an assessment designed to help people back into work has the opposite effect.
“The Tory-Liberal Government need to reform the test urgently so those who can work are supported to do so but those not healthy enough are helped, not hounded.
“That 20 per cent of GPs are reporting patients with suicidal thoughts is very concerning. It is vital the Government get to the bottom of this by carrying out a full assessment of how widespread this problem is and what can be done about it.
“The principle of testing people for their ability to work is sound, but it must be done in a way that is fair and doesn’t waste millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money.”
He added: “I am pleased the Record have taken up this issue, bringing campaigning journalism to bear on the assessment process.”
The survey of more than 1000 doctors was carried out by the ICM Research Group on behalf of Rethink Mental Illness.
It forms part of the charities’ submission to the third annual review of the assessment system being carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
The charities, who also include the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, conclude there is clear evidence the assessments are having a “substantive negative impact” on the mental health of patients.
But Atos defended their role. A spokeswoman said: “Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists use their clinical knowledge and apply the Government’s policy and criteria to each assessment.
“We understand that applying for benefit can be a difficult time which is why we try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have worked hard to make sure assessments take account of mental health conditions. It was developed after close consultation with medical and other experts and specialist disability charities.
“Assessors are given guidance on dealing with mental health conditions and claimants are given opportunity to explain how their condition varies over time.”
CRAWFORD Leask claims his treatment by Atos was degrading and insulting.
The 52-year-old was forced to give up his job as a mortgage broker after suffering two prolapsed discs on his neck, which caused agonising pain.
The degenerative condition means he is forced to take 27 pills a day to deal with pain and inflammation.
He said: “These people start from a position that assumes anyone claiming benefits is a malingerer and a liar.
“I was told my symptoms would be inherently unlikely to come from the condition, which is effectively calling me a liar.
“I was also asked by a nurse if I could read, which I found insulting.”
Crawford, from Irvine, Ayrshire, has suffered from the condition for three years.
He said: “I would love to be able to go back to work but it would be physically impossible.
“I could well imagine that just about every person who goes through the Atos experience will suffer a huge amount of stress.”
TOM Meikle was treated so badly by Atos that he considered suicide.
The 61-year-old council bus driver, from Uddingston, near Glasgow, was unable to work after a nasty leg break and complications.
He only claimed benefits in the period before going back to work. But when he was hauled in for an interview, Atos told him he was fit to work.
He said: “The council were good as gold and agreed to hold the position open until I was fit to go back.
“I explained to Atos that I was desperate to get back to work when I was physically capable.
“But they said I was fit to work. I was in a plaster right up to my hip and it was obvious I couldn’t drive a bus.
“But the woman I spoke to said if I could use the phone, I could work. I told her I’d said to the council I would do a desk job but they couldn’t accommodate that for health and safety reasons.
“I was already really depressed, being stuck on the couch for weeks, but Atos nearly pushed me over the edge.”
Tom had 78 visits to hospital during his nine-and-a-half months off work. He went back to his job last April.
Mental health warning
DEPRESSION and other mental health probems are inevitable when vulnerable people get unsympathetic treatment, according to a pyschologist.
Dr Rick Norris said most people who deal with Atos would love to go back to work but can’t.
He added: “If there’s an unfair suggestion that the person is trying to defraud the Exchequer, this could bring a lot of pressure.”