Why I secretly taped my disability assessment


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Media captionNev Cartwright has been left with complications including chronic infections and emphysema.

Every month 60,000 ill and disabled people have their needs assessed for benefits.Some are so worried about the process that they are using mobile phones to secretly record those interviews, critics say.But using that evidence to overturn a decision is not straightforward.

In 2015, Nev Cartwright sat down with his specialist at a hospital in Leeds.He was told his hacking cough and breathing difficulties were caused by a tumour in his left lung.He was 45.

Since then he has had three operations and a lung removed.Nev was awarded the highest rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) - a benefit meant to pay for the extra costs of his condition.

But a year later he received a letter saying the DLA was being replaced by a new benefit, the Personal Independence Payment, and his needs would have to be reassessed by a private company.

The night before his assessment he watched a documentary which questioned how they were being conducted.

"I was really nervous about it and made the decision to audio record the interview covertly.It was a safeguard, an accurate record of what had taken place," he says.

'Completely altered'

The face-to-face assessment is typically an interview with a health professional, such as a nurse or paramedic, lasting between 30 and 90 minutes.It can also include basic medical tests and a physical examination.

The claimant is assessed depending on their ability to complete day-to-day tasks.That report is sent to an official at the DWP who will then decide the final level of disability benefit that person is awarded.

But things did not go as planned.Nev says he had misgivings from the start but it was only later, when he saw the assessor's final report, that he realised something was seriously wrong.

"Some details discussed in the interview were not in the report and others were completely altered," he says.

"She said she'd done a physical examination of my mobility.It was very evident on the audio recording, that she never did that at all."

On his phone recording you can clearly hear the assessor carrying out a peak test to measure his lung function, and reading out the data.

But in the final report, his last reading appears to have doubled from 150 L/min to 300 L/min, making him seem better than he actually was.

"I totally agree that anyone entitled to benefits should have their needs assessed," he says."But everyone deserves just and fair treatment."

Tribunal appeal

After his interview Nev had his disability payments cut and had to return the car paid for by the mobility element of his benefits.

He wrote to the DWP and told them about his recording, sending them a written transcript put together by an independent firm.

Image caption Claimants can record their assessments but only if they provide tamper-proof equipment like this, which can cost £1,500.

Under government rules, secret or covert recording like this is banned.If it is spotted, the claimant is told to stop.If they refuse it is likely that their benefit application will be rejected.

The government tried to get his recording thrown out before his appeal at tribunal.

But exceptionally, in his case the judge agreed a transcript could be entered into evidence.He went on to win his case and his car was eventually returned.

"I've wasted 12 months of my life in an unfair fight with a government department and the people who work for it," he said.

The private company which carried out his assessment says its "high standards were not met on this occasion" and it has now changed the way it gathers evidence in cases like this.

Recording pressure

Critics of the assessment process say formal audio recording of all PIP interviews should be mandatory and available to both sides.

"It would remove the distrust and give so much transparency to everyone," said Tony Lea, lead welfare rights officer at Benefit Resolutions, a disability advocacy service which has been campaigning for a rule change.

As things stand the official rules are complex.

A claimant does have the right to ask for a PIP interview to be formally taped and used as evidence, but unlike other disability benefits like ESA, they have to provide their own equipment.

This must be a secure, tamper-proof double recorder which can cost as much as £1,500.A mobile phone, digital recorder or dictaphone does not meet the requirements.

In March, a major independent review of the PIP system commissioned by the government recommended switching to compulsory audio recordings with an opt-out for people who do not want it.

The government says it is "considering the results" of a pilot of recording in the West Midlands.

A spokesman for the DWP said:"Anyone is free to record their face-to-face consultation, but it must be done in a way that best protects both claimants and assessors."

Nev says his experience shows that some vulnerable people need more protection.

"I should probably be more diplomatic but I think the whole system is a mess," he adds.

"The importance for me of getting that audio recording into evidence was the potential to help other people in the future."

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel....

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Scottish cardiac arrest resuscitation rates rise

Patient on stretcher beside ambulanceImage copyright Getty Images

More Scots are being successfully resuscitated following a cardiac arrest, according to Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) figures.

Over the last six months, an average of 66% of patients whose arrests were witnessed by ambulance crews were alive on arrival at hospital after treatment.

SAS said the "fantastic" results followed the introduction of new "models of care".

The figures have been released on Restart a Heart Day[1].

The day of action across Europe aims to teach life saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills to as many people as possible.

Every year about 3,000 people are treated for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest by ambulance crews in Scotland.

As it released the latest figures, SAS said patients with immediately life-threatening conditions were now being identified earlier in the 999 call process, and were being treated more rapidly.

It said the introduction of new CPR technology had helped, as had sending two ambulances to each cardiac arrest wherever possible.

The service added that it believed its approaches were making a "significant contribution to saving an additional 300 lives per year and up to 1,000 lives by 2020."

'Unique challenges'

Paul Gowens, lead consultant paramedic for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said:"These are fantastic results for Scotland, putting us up there with the best you'll see anywhere in the world.

"We are a country with unique challenges, responding to calls in not just urban, but remote and island communities too and these figures are world class.

"We know that the sooner people get treatment after a sudden cardiac arrest can mean the difference between life and death and we've implemented a number of innovative approaches over the last couple of years to prioritise patients with immediately life-threatening conditions in an effort to save more lives.

"Cardiac arrests are now being identified earlier in the 999 call process, ambulances being dispatched more quickly, and people being treated more rapidly."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Save a Life for Scotland wants to see 500,000 Scots trained to administer CPR by 2020

Meanwhile, free CPR training will be offered at key rail stations around Scotland on Monday as part of Restart a Heart Day.

Volunteers working with Save a Life for Scotland will be at Aberdeen, Haymarket (Edinburgh), Kilmarnock and Inverness stations to teach heart-starting skills to staff, passengers and station visitors.

By 2020, the charity wants to see 500,000 Scots trained to administer CPR on someone having a heart attack.

Lisa MacInnes, national programme manager for Save a Life for Scotland, said:"Each year in Scotland, thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds will have an unexpected cardiac arrest.

"Being first on the scene is scary.Calling 999 to get help on the way and stepping up to do compression-only CPR, if asked to over the phone by the ambulance service call taker, is not always easy - but it's the right thing to do.

"Taking a few minutes to learn how to perform CPR and make yourself 'CPR ready' will make all the difference, and can save a life."...


  1. ^ Restart a Heart Day (www.erc.edu)

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NHS praised after racist tweet about sickle cell disease sufferers

Twitter exchange Image caption NHS Blood and Transplant received the racist response after tweeting an appeal for more black donors to come forward

The NHS has been praised for its response to a racist comment on Twitter regarding black blood donors.

NHS Blood and Transplant tweeted an appeal[1] for more black donors to help black people with sickle cell disease.

A user replied "If we deport all blacks, this will stop being an issue".The NHS responded:"OR..we could just deport you.".

An NHS spokesman said:"There is no place for any kind of racism within our online communities".

The offending tweet has since been removed.

Hundreds of people have since tweeted in support of the organisation's response, with many saying it has encouraged them to give blood.

Bec Awuor‏ tweeted:"Going to sign up now, this has definitely given me the push to do so thank you for this!Love from a girl who is Black AND English."

Liz Lindley said:"Not only is it game, set and match to @GiveBloodNHS they have won the tournament, new balls please."

And Caroline Crossland posted:"Seriously, one of the best Tweets EVER.Donating on the 18th - will be doing so with an even bigger grin on my face now!"

Image copyright Science Photo Library Image caption Currently only 1% of active blood donors in England are from black or mixed race communities.

NHS Blood and Transplant, which has centres in Bristol and Plymouth, said:"Donors from all backgrounds are fundamental to our life-saving work.

"There is no place for any kind of racism within our online communities and we do not tolerate abusive and offensive behaviour."

A spokesman said currently only 1% of active blood donors in England were from black or mixed race communities.

Black donors are more likely to have rare blood and tissue types and black patients are more likely to require these rare types, he said.

People from black communities can also be susceptible to conditions, such as sickle cell disease, which leave them requiring regular transfusions.

In these cases, blood from donors with a similar ethnic background can provide the best match and better outcomes in the long term....


  1. ^ tweeted an appeal (twitter.com)

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Magic mushrooms can 'reset' depressed brain

Magic mushroomsImage copyright Getty Images

A hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms can "reset" the brains of people with untreatable depression, raising hopes of a future treatment, scans suggest.

The small study gave 19 patients a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin.

Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks.

However, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate.

There has been a series of small studies suggesting psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a "lubricant for the mind"[1] that allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms.

But the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known.

Image copyright Getty Images

The team at Imperial performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after (when the patients were "sober" again).

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports[2], showed psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain.

  • The amygdala - which is heavily involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety - became less active.The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in reported symptoms.
  • The default-mode network - a collaboration of different brain regions - became more stable after taking psilocybin.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, said the depressed brain was being "clammed up" and the psychedelic experience "reset" it.

He told the BBC News website:"Patients were very ready to use this analogy.Without any priming they would say, 'I've been reset, reborn, rebooted', and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up."

However, this remains a small study and had no "control" group of healthy people with whom to compare the brain scans.

Further, larger studies are still needed before psilocybin could be accepted as a treatment for depression.

However, there is no doubt new approaches to treatment are desperately needed.

Prof Mitul Mehta, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said:"What is impressive about these preliminary findings is that brain changes occurred in the networks we know are involved in depression, after just a single dose of psilocybin.

"This provides a clear rationale to now look at the longer-term mechanisms in controlled studies."

Follow James on Twitter.[4]...


  1. ^ "lubricant for the mind" (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ published in the journal Scientific Reports (www.nature.com)
  3. ^ Depression:A revolution in treatment? (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ on Twitter. (twitter.com)

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