The private healthcare company Atos which performs the controversial sickness benefit assessments has confirmed that it gets commitments from its medical staff by making them sign the Official Secrets Act for any government work it undertakes.
They defend their actions amid the concerns that someone might become a whistleblower.
Atos Healthcare admitted that the doctors and nurses are asked to sign a document which has the basic terms of the Official Secrets Act despite not bound by the terms of the Act.
Raising concerns with The Guardian and online political blog Liberal Conspiracy when the company asked them to sign the document seeking their obligations under the OSA.
The doctors believed that it was to stop people in the company from reporting the issues concerning patient safety and proper conduct of medical assessments.
Though it was not likely that medical staff would be prosecuted under the OSA for speaking out about patient safety issues still the doctors say it may make the staff more reluctant to come forward.
Atos, a French-owned healthcare and IT company, carries out assessment for the government to help determine whether claimants are eligible for sickness benefits and are being paid more than £100 million a year.
The process has been under some controversy since it began to be piloted under the last government and it complaints escalated once the system began retesting all Incapacity Benefit claimants last April, to assess whether they should receive the new Employment and Support Allowance.
One doctor who joined Atos last summer said that all medical health professionals, MHPs are required to sign the document. The doctor, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said. That he was not surprised when he was told that everybody had to sign the OSA.
Atos has said that it had other contracts with public bodies which require its employees working with those bodies to sign the OSA.
Atos added that it has one blanket security policy across the company and this was why doctors working with the Department for Work and Pensions’ assessment process were also being made to sign a statement saying they were aware of the terms of the Act.
He said that they provided services to a number of clients and in line with their best practice security policy, they ask employees who handle confidential information as part of its work with public clients to sign a set of security compliance forms including the Official Secrets Act declaration form.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the Guardian that the department was not aware that Atos employees were being made to sign the OSA.