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 Where's Maximus

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PostSubject: Where's Maximus   Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:23 pm

Where's Maximus?

Atos would've liked to have been shot of the WCA around June of last year, but it knew that it would take the DWP time to find a new partner and Atos didn't want a reputation for leaving customers in the lurch, so they stuck with it.
The Work and Pensions Committee declared in July of this year that "DWP expects to award a contract to a new provider in October 2014". That gives the DWP eight days from today, because so far this month there has been no official announcement.
The word on the street (that is, on Twitter) is that Capita has dropped out - which, if true, is pretty significant, as Capita went for and won part of the PIP contract. Rumour has is that a firm called Maximus is the frontrunner in the race for the new WCA contract (but we know that the DWP had to step in and lease the offices that will be used for conducting assessments, as the potential contractors were reluctant to do so - which is, I think, a sign that all is not going quite as planned).
Here's the thing: the DWP has said that a key aspect of the new contract will be a huge uplift in capacity. But doing more assessments means employing more assessors, and these take time to recruit.
I've looked at Maximus's website. They are recruiting healthcare professionals, but for other roles. So if Maximus does start to take over from Atos in the next week or so, it will be working with exactly the same number of assessors as Atos does now.
"Ah," you might say "but Maximus will recruit more assessors once it has been formally awarded the contract". Perhaps it will, but that takes time: once recruited, assessors must pass basic training then get fully up to speed - a process that takes about six months, at a time when the backlog is growing at a rate of 70,000 claims per month.
That's why I suspect we will see a 'new' and 'radical' approach to the WCA. I reckon the DWP will go back to sifting claims itself and only ask for face-to-face assessments in selected cases. If so, it will mean the advocates of public service outsourcing being forced to eat a mammoth slice of humble pie.
But maybe I'm wrong, and everything is still on track. Mr Harper, you've got eight days.

Thanks to Anita Bellows and others for background information

Update 29 October 2014
Yesterday, Reuters reported that "a source with knowledge of the situation" had told the news agency's London branch that Maximus will be picked to carry out WCAs, after Atos had "reached a financial settlement in March to quit the contract earlier than scheduled". [The Reuters report wrongly claimed that the DWP plans to assess the fitness for work of the sick and elderly! Even IDS and his cronies don't plan to go that far, do they?] The secret source said that the contract will be worth around £500m over three and a half years. That's about £140m a year.
Maximus and its rival for the contract, Interserve, both declined to comment. An official DWP spokesman said that the bidding process was actually still ongoing and an announcement on the outcome would be made "in due course". Reuters - presumably after speaking to Atos - reiterated that the French firm was quitting early because the system was "not working" and a large proportion of their recommendations were overturned on appeal, and because of protests and abuse directed at the company and its staff.

Here's my interpretation:

The absence of an official announcement means that the DWP will now miss its deadline for making one before the end of October.
The value of the contract is not much more than it was in 2010 (when you take things like inflation into account) and the length of the face-to-face element of the WCA isn't going to change any time soon. So the huge uplift in capacity promised by the previous Minister for Disabled People cannot come from the Maximus part of the operation.
If the enormous capacity surge that the DWP needs doesn't come from Maximus, the only place it could otherwise come from is from within the DWP itself; that means more paper-based assessments - a good thing for disabled people.
If there is no capacity surge, the huge backlog of claims will continue to grow and the previous Disabilities Minister will go down in history as being full of nothing but hot air.


*Conspiracy theory* What if the Coalition actually wants a huge backlog of ESA claims, in which to conceal 500,000 unemployed benefit claimants?

Update 31 October 2014
Fair play to the DWP, it did squeak the official announcement in before the deadline of the end of October. Yesterday, the DWP confirmed that Maximus is the lucky winner in the race to carry out WCAs when Atos finally leaves. The announcement and the accompanying ministerial statement from IDS himself struck me as lacking the customary hubris and seemed rather bland.
A few things stood out:

There is a desire to beef up expertise in mental health among the ranks of WCA assessors, which is something everyone would welcome.
Maximus will do other assessments as well as the WCA - which can only mean the assessments for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and the War Pension examinations that Atos does at the moment. [Funny how the Veterans Agency hasn't complained about the quality of Atos War Pension reports. Similarly, the completely devolved Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland is happy to continue to use Atos for its WCAs. Kinda suggests the real problem lies in Caxton House, doesn't it?]
Atos will lease back the computer system it owns - known as LiMA - which Maximus will continue to use to manufacture WCA reports.
Maximus will take over from Atos in March 2015.
"Most" Atos healthcare staff will transfer to Maximus.
Both the DWP and Maximus said that Maximus will try to recruit more healthcare professionals in order to increase capacity (and clear the gigantic backlog).


In my view, there may be trouble ahead:

Despite the talk of a seamless transfer, there are inevitably going to be hiccups - at least - as Atos enters its official run-down period.
It will be difficult to recruit extra staff because it's seen as a dead-end job. Doing disability assessments is usually something done on the side in addition to your day job or as a way of winding down to retirement, or something to do if you're desperate. Capita and Atos have had this problem of recruitment with PIP; they tried to expand their pool of HCPs by recruiting not just doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists but also paramedics. It didn't work; they are still short of staff. What will Maximus do that Atos couldn't? Recruit first-aiders? What about that guy from football, the one with the 'magic sponge'? Will he do?
There is another option: throw money at it. By offering eye-watering amounts of dosh, Maximus might, in the short term, attract some extra GPs and other trades. But again, this manoeuvre has already been tried with PIP and doesn't seem to have overcome the chronic bottleneck caused by long assessments and too few assessors. And the £140m a year figure leaked to Reuters won't be enough to pay existing assessors and tempt in new ones, while still leaving enough money left over for bonuses and dividends.
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