NowMedical: Controversial company could be out of contract with Islington Council next year, FOI reveals
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A controversial medical firm blasted for labelling a homeless torture survivor not vulnerable and suggesting a cancer patient didn’t qualify for priority housing could see its relationship with Islington Council end next year.
NowMedical is contracted to assess housing and homelessness applications and advise Islington Council if people qualify for priority need accommodation - the final decision is then taken by officers.
Now, Freedom of Information (FOI) figures obtained by the Gazette reveal NowMedical has advised on more than 6,000 cases in the last three years.
In February the Gazette reported the case of a homeless Iranian refugee who couldn't speak English, had been tortured and suffered from PTSD and urinary incontinence linked to beatings. The 37-year-old was repeatedly found not vulnerable by Islington Council, on the advice of NowMedical - but a Central London County Court judge subsequently overturned the decision a year ago.
This paper also reported the story of a hidden homeless couple living in temporary accommodation. A 59-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer claimed she couldn't sleep with her partner owing to night sweats brought on by her chemotherapy. She and her doctor said she needed a two-bed council flat but Islington and it's adviser NowMedical agreed the couple could fit two single beds into one small room and weren't in priority housing need.
FOI data revealed the contract between the council and NowMedical is due to expire on March 31, 2020. It also breaks down the applications NowMedical has advised on over the past three years: it 1,622 assessments cases between April 2018 and January 2019 alone. It also advised on 1,536 applications in 2017 to 2018, 1,622 in 2016 to 2017 and 1,225 the previous year.
The borough's housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward carefully reiterated the town hall position at a housing scrutiny meeting last month: that it's "actively looking for alternatives".
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The same committee called for a review into NowMedical's contract in February, saying GPs and inhouse medical experts were better placed to advise on a patient's medical needs than remote consultants who, it is alleged, more often than not don't meet the applicants.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn said: "We are a bit concerned about NowMedical, we have heard a few troubling stories and we have challenged a lot of their decisions in Islington."
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The the council will have a procurement process once the deal expires.
Local authorities like Islington once had in-house consultants, but these have been axed amid ongoing central government cuts.
Islington typically consults NowMedical on homelessness applications, where it advises if people meet the statutory threshold for vulnerability, making them eligible for priority need housing. It also advises if people qualify for enough housing points to move to a different property.
At last week's housing scrutiny committee meeting Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East) said: "We have expressed a lot of concern about the way NowMedical's reports are done and the outsourcing of work by the council.
"We need to bring vulnerability back in house, with medical proper advise from people who actually see the people concerned."
"Part of the issue is cost - I worry we look at assessments and don't look at the cost of defending and losing cases in which NowMedical have been involved." Public records show Islington paid NowMedical £17,525 in the 12 months to November 2018.
NowMedical states it is the "UK's leading provider of medical housing services, advising over 150 local authorities, housing associations and organisations across the UK."
It also claims its "services are highly cost-effective - for example, reducing time spent in temporary accommodation, and [resulting in] more efficient use of housing stock".
It charges £35 per case plus VAT for advise on a case that will be returned within a working day. But it costs £50 plus VAT for advice from psychiatrists, with a five-day response time.
The director of NowMedical is Dr John Keen. NowMedical didn't reply to a request for comment.