Maximus and the Fit For Work service

By Bernadette Meaden
February 19, 2015

The Daily Telegraph today (19th February 2015) reported on the new Fit For Work Service which the government says is aimed at stamping out our “sick note culture”. On social media people angrily denied that such a culture now exists, pointing out that they either do not receive sick pay, or are afraid to be off sick as they could lose their job.

The Telegraph reported that the Fit For Work scheme will be run by Health Management Limited (HML), a private company which will draw up a return to work plan for people who have been ill for more than four weeks. Participation requires the consent of the patient, but one can imagine that a refusal to participate could be a source of friction between employer and employee.

What the Telegraph failed to mention is that Health Management Limited is owned by Maximus, the controversial American company which was recently awarded the contract to carry out Work Capability Assessments, after Atos abandoned the contract.

Also not mentioned was the fact that the Medical Director at HML is Professor Mike O’Donnell – who was previously Chief Medical Officer at Atos. When this was pointed out last year, Professor O’Donnell deleted his Linkedin profile.

Prior to being at Atos, Professor O’Donnell was Chief Medical Officer at Unum, a private insurance company which is alleged to have had a big influence over the Department for Work and Pensions in its reform of disability benefits and assessments, including the design of the Work Capability Assessment.

The Disability News Service has reported that in 2005, whilst at Unum, Professor O’Donnell wrote: "We know that our views and understanding are not yet in the mainstream of doctors’ thinking, but Government Policy is moving in the same direction, to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates, both in the UK and overseas.” In 2012 legal website LawyersandSettlements.com reported, "Unum continues to suffer from a global reputation that it denies, delays or discontinues benefits in an alleged attempt to wear down policyholders in their pursuit of legitimate benefits."

Maximus is also involved in the Work Programme, announcing this month that it "will formally take over the running of the Work Programme across North East Yorkshire and the Humber from 2 February 2015. MAXIMUS currently delivers the Work Programme in West London, the Thames Valley, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight."

It is surely cause for concern that an American corporation is now so heavily involved in our welfare state. Maximus will now have the power to:

a) get involved in the medical treatment of people who are off work sick, in an effort to get them to return to work
b) act as a gatekeeper to sickness and disability benefits through the Work Capability Assessment, and
c) require people on those benefits to take part in the Work Programme, under threat of sanction.

Is there potential for a conflict of interest to arise here?

* More on the Fit For Work Service from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20979

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.