A MAN suffering from a rare, terminal form of bowel cancer has had his benefits stopped and told he is fit to work – just weeks before undergoing an operation to remove the rest of his colon.
Carl Lewis, 37, was first diagnosed with familial polyposis coli in 1991 after inheriting the disease from his father.
After numerous tests and hospital procedures, Mr Lewis had a section of his colon removed in 1999 and has not been able to work since.
However, after attending a healthcare assessment arranged by Atos – on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions – Mr Lewis has now lost his Employment Support Allowance benefit, this despite being booked in for an operation which will see him housebound for up to a year.
Mr Lewis, of Nightingale Road, said: “I have been going for regular tests for years and I’ve always been told that I can’t work because of my condition. It is degenerative and it’s not going to get better, so I was shocked and upset when I received the letter saying I will lose my benefit.
“I had a letter from my GP sent to the Atos assessor outlining my condition, and I tried to explain when I went for the assessment, but obviously it has been ignored.”
Carl was fitted with a temporary stoma in 1999 and had part of his colon removed, after polyps were discovered.
Earlier this year he returned to doctors after symptoms flared up again, and is set to go into Scarborough Hospital in the next few weeks for a further operation to have the rest of his colon removed and a permanent stoma fitted.
Carl’s wife Carolyn said: “Carl finds it difficult to sit for a long period of time, or stand for a long period of time.
“He only gets about three hours sleep a night because he is in pain, and that is only going to get worse after the operation.
“He won’t be able to be away from a toilet, it took him a year to get to the end of the street last time.
“Basically, we hope this operation works and the polyps don’t come back – but they could come back in his throat next. If it doesn’t work then we’re screwed, really.”
Carl’s Employment Support Allowance equates to around £79 a fortnight – which goes towards making up a housing benefit shortfall for rent on the couple’s flat.
Carolyn continued: “It is more stress that we could do without. We want to get Carl well, but this will mean we will struggle financially. He can’t work, and I can’t while I’m looking after him.
“I understand these assessments need to be made to stop people wrongly claiming for benefits, but Atos should look at these assessors.
“She said she understood the condition, but seeing the results of her assessment it’s obvious she doesn’t. We were only there for 10 minutes, and Carl had to rush to the toilet while he was there. When he came back the assessor said ‘that’s all.’
“They are supposed to be healthcare professionals, they should listen to the patient’s GP.”
The assesment took place at a health centre in Scarborough on August 29, with the Lewis’ finding out their benefit would be stopped by letter on November 15.
A Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face to face assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant at the time.
“Anyone who disagrees with the outcome of their assessment can submit extra medical evidence and ask for their claim to be looked at again, or appeal to an independent tribunal.”
A spokesperson for Atos, which provides ‘fitness to work’ assessments for the DWP, said it could not comment on individual cases but was happy to look again at any case it handled.
They say that Atos does not decide on benefit entitlement, but supplies the DWP with information for them to make a decision - while meeting the Department’s quality standards on around 15,000 assessments per week.
Earlier this year the Citizens Advice Bureau called for the government to impose financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate work capability assessment report that they produce amid growing criticism for the company.
Critics accused the government of mounting a crude money-saving exercise, designed to cut the annual £13 billion benefits bill rather than help those who need support.