Call have been made for a review of a private medical company used by councils including Thanet for advice on whether those in poor housing or at risk of homelessness are vulnerable enough to get council support – despite staff not meeting the clients they are assessing,
The company, NowMedical, carries out assessments based on paperwork and rarely meets clients.
Statistics revealed in a Freedom of Information request sent to councils across the country by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism show that TDC has used NowMedical for 33 cases between 2014-2018 at a cost of just over £6,000.
NowMedical assesses hundreds of people a week for councils and the Home Office. The firm charges £35 plus VAT for a basic report on whether someone is medically vulnerable enough to get long-term support to prevent or alleviate their homelessness. In most cases, this is produced on the basis of the council’s paperwork. The doctors working for NowMedical do not regularly access full medical records or talk to a client’s GP.
‘You’re not vulnerable’
Nicholas Nicol, a barrister who has successfully challenged council decisions based on NowMedical assessments, told the Bureau: “I fear it is a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation. They say if you’re not getting treatment your condition is not severe enough but, if you are, then you have the requisite support and, either way, you’re not vulnerable.”
He has said he would support a review of commissioning the private firm by the Home Affairs Select Committee or another regulatory body.
However, for this to be taken forward it would require complaints to the General Medical Council (GMC) or an MP to take up the cause in Parliament.
Thanet council says the service is run by those working in the medical profession but does not replace services provided by the NHS and GPs.
A spokesperson said: “Now Medical employ people that are actively working in the medical profession. Their role is to assess whether someone’s housing conditions impact on their health. They are not there to replace the services provided by the NHS and people should visit their own GP to discuss their health and medication.
“Applicants complete a self assessment reporting any diagnosed conditions and medication and Now Medical use this to make a judgement about whether these reported conditions would be impacted by the dwelling that the person lives in, or in the case of a homeless person, how their reported conditions would be impacted by not having accommodation.
“They do not need to meet the person face to face to do this, but would of course take into account any evidence submitted by the person’s GP or other medical professional.
“This is considered to be entirely appropriate and is common practice for many local authorities.If anyone has a concern about their health they should contact their GP.”
Through Freedom of Information requests the Bureau learnt that the six-strong team provides an estimated 14,000 assessments to councils per year, an average of 55 a day with a value of £2million of taxpayers’ money since 2014.
Guidance offered to Bedford council’s housing team by NowMedical says that someone with cancer could get help if they are having “ongoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy” but not if the illness was “under investigation” or “in remission”.
In cases brought to the courts Judges overturned decisions determined by the assessments, criticising NowMedical for not meeting clients.
In all instances, the decisions about housing are made by the council. NowMedical is paid to provide the medical assessments but is not involved in the housing decision process.
NowMedical has not responded to the Bureau’s requests for comment.
Thanet council is currently in the process of adopting a new housing and homelessness strategy.