Councillors call for in-house medical assessments following NowMedical controversy

Islington Town Hall.

Councillors undertaking a review on homelessness and rough sleeping in Islington have recommended the Town Hall develops an in-house medical assessment service for housing applications.

The calls follow concerns over local authorities’ use of private company NowMedical in assessing the vulnerability of those in need of council support.

In the majority of cases, the company makes decisions on residents’ futures without seeing them face to face.

Islington Law Centre is understood to have called for the council to consider assessments made by an individual’s own doctor, “as they were most aware of their state of health”.

At a 14 January meeting, the Law Centre expressed concerns that “most applicants affected [are] vulnerable, suffering mental illness, learning disability or physical disability”.

Housing lead Cllr Diarmaid Ward confirmed the council was “actively looking for alternatives” to NowMedical in April of last year.

One possible alternative raised at the meeting is whether the local clinical commissioning group (CCG), which is in charge of delivering health services across the borough, would carry out the medical assessments itself.

NowMedical is used by over 100 councils across England, and had received over £2.2m in taxpayers’ money between the beginning of 2014 and the end of last year, according to a recent Bureau of Investigative Journalism report.

Speaking to the Citizen in April of last year, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s very worrying if some councils are relying on medical advisers who do not meet the individual to carry out assessments, nearly a decade after this issue was first raised.

“These decisions can be the difference between someone, who could be seriously ill, sleeping on the street or in a safe home.

“It is a brutal symptom of our broken housing market that councils are in a position where they have to assess if someone could be left on the streets.

“If councils are going to seek independent advice then clearly it should be provided by specialists who are able to assess each person’s case thoroughly and professionally.”