MP’s concern over lack of wheelchair access at Norwich assessment centre

Adam Gretton Health correspondent
Monday, August 26, 2013

A Norfolk MP has called on the government to ensure that all medical assessment centres are disability friendly after highlighting the accessibility problems at a Norwich facility.

ATOS disability protestors in Norwich.  Photo: Bill Smith ATOS disability protestors in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Protesters gathered outside a Norwich disability centre last year to demonstrate about the lack of wheelchair access at St Mary’s House, which is run by private contractor Atos Healthcare.

The centre in Duke Street, where people undergo medicals for disability benefits, can not be visited by wheelchair users, has no parking and is a not near a bus or train station.

MP Richard Bacon urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that Atos Healthcare’s centres are accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility.

The South Norfolk MP took action after being contacted by Mark Harrison, CEO of South-Norfolk based charity Equal Lives regarding the accessibility of the Norwich Assessment Centre, which is on the second floor.

Mr Bacon urged the government department to ensure that the centres are either located at ground level or have provision to hold assessments on the ground floor.

“Given that Atos is carrying out disability assessments for the DWP, one would have thought that Atos would have realised the importance of making its premises accessible to disabled people.

“I raised this matter with the DWP but unfortunately the reply I received rather missed the point, which is not whether there is a lift or whether people can be sent to accessible centres as far away as Nottingham.”

“The point is that Atos did not give enough thought to the accessibility needs of wheelchair users and people with limited mobility when it rented its Norwich offices,” he said.

A Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “We let people know about access by telephone prior to scheduling appointments to try to ensure no one goes to a centre that isn’t appropriate for them. Information sent with the appointment letter also makes it clear if the centre is not on a ground floor and we ask those who believe they would have problems with access to let us know and they will be offered an appointment at the nearest ground floor centre or a home visit.”