Transforming the delivery of health and disability assessments

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As a trusted partner to government, we’re committed to ensuring people can access the financial support they are entitled to, and to move forward with their lives.  

This commitment has always been at the heart of our delivery of the Health Assessment Advisory Service (HAAS), a service we inherited under immense pressure and in need of dramatic improvements in 2015.  

At the time, the service, which provides access to health and disability benefits for more than a million people each year, had been failing to deliver against agreed performance metrics, and there was consensus among government, charities and advocacy groups that the service was in need of an overhaul. 

On behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), we undertook a comprehensive programme of improvements at scale, aimed at transforming health and disability assessments into a respectful, sensitive and efficient service which places the customer front and centre. 

Owing to the success of this programme, by early 2020 the service was operating highly-effectively – with record low waiting times, effective stakeholder management, consistently high levels of quality and high customer satisfaction.  

At the heart of this transformation journey were five core transformations, primarily focused on improving the customer experience and providing improved value for money for the taxpayer. 

1. Increasing volumes 

The immediate priority when we began our delivery was increasing the volume of assessments delivered; a task which involved clearing the vast backlog of 550,000 individuals awaiting assessments, while ensuring sufficient capacity to meet future demand.

To achieve this, we mobilised an extensive recruitment campaign, which more than doubled the number of qualified clinicians working on the contract, allowing us toincrease the volume of assessments. By 2016, the backlog had been cleared, and the average time in the assessment process halved. 

2. Focusing on quality  

Our quest to raise the overall quality of assessments resulted in a comprehensive series of improvements to the process, including a focus on staff training and raising clinical standards. We worked to expand training on a greater range of health conditions presented at assessments, and introduced measures to improve the flow of evidence from GPs and other treating clinicians. 

Working closely with  external stakeholders provided insights which led to improved customer communications. This was supported through our formation of the Customer Representative Group (CRG) in early 2015, which comprises disability charities and local government representatives – whose input helped to make sure that the customer experience was at the heart of planned improvements. 

3. Improving colleague experience and retention 

To ensure accurate and efficient assessments, we introduced a rigorous training programme to equip healthcare professionals (HCPs) with the specialist expertise required, including knowledge around mental health and specific conditions. In addition, a package of improved benefits and wellbeing support for HCPs helped to achieve a much-needed cultural change across the assessments workforce. 

4. Changing stakeholder perceptions 

As part of the wider transformation programme, we set out to build trust among customers and reverse the legacy of negative publicity associated with the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) service. Stemming from a genuine desire to embed the customer at the heart of delivery, several initiatives – including the establishment of the CRG and a robust programme of stakeholder engagement – generated real results.  

We appointed a Head of Customer Experience who had experienced the process and was well acquainted with its challenges, proactively met with welfare rights organisations throughout the UK, and introduced a customer website with information designed to alleviate anxiety around the assessment process. 

5. Delivering the best possible customer experience 

We inherited a service which had attracted criticism from various quarters regarding the experience of claimants going through the assessment process. Immediately, we recognised that a change of ethos was required, and changed the focus from the ‘claimant’ to the ‘customer’ experience.  

The quarterly Customer Satisfaction Survey was adapted to allow customers to include additional comments and suggestions, which are reviewed by the Customer Experience team and escalated where appropriate. To support customers who may be anxious, we introduced advanced customer service training to non-clinical colleagues to improve understanding of mental health conditions, including anxiety, and how they may affect our customers. 

The impact of these transformative measures was apparent in the Work and Pensions Committee’s report on Maximus’ delivery of the WCA in 2018, which noted that the majority of customers were satisfied with the service they had received from Maximus and, unlike its earlier 2014 report on WCA, made no reference to a ‘failing service’.  

Looking to the future 

Having achieved a transformation of the service at scale, we are well-placed to play an important role in the Government’s long-term plans to transform health assessment services, in which a new single, integrated Health Assessment Service (HAS) will operate from 2029.  

Last year, DWP confirmed that Maximus would be a key provider of a transitional service to realise this, through delivery of the Functional Assessment Services (FAS) contract. Being awarded the opportunity to deliver FAS from September 2024 means we maintain our position as a leading health assessments provider for the UK Government. 

As we move towards delivery of this new phase of health assessment services, we continue to innovate and improve – taking forward our learnings gained through engagement with politicians, policy makers, the third sector, media, and campaign groups.  

In doing so, we positively impact the lives of the individuals we help through this critical public service – and equally, play a key role in helping the nation to move forward. 

To find out more about our transformation journey, you can read our report here.

05 February, 2024