DWP silent over ‘fitness for work’ tests carried out by drunk Atos nurse

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to say whether it has reviewed hundreds of “fitness for work” tests carried out by a nurse who has been struck off for conducting assessments of disabled benefit claimants while drunk.

Although former Atos healthcare professional Heather Margaret MacBean was found guilty of misconduct by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) of charges relating to just one day, 27 June 2013, it is believed that she was drunk at work on other occasions.

The former health visitor and midwife could have carried out hundreds of work capability assessments (WCAs), and it is believed that she also conducted disability living allowance (DLA) assessments for Atos, on behalf of DWP.

In November 2013, when allegations against MacBean first emerged, Disability News Service (DNS) spoke to two disabled people who were each found “fit for work” and so ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) after being assessed by MacBean.

One assessment took place in January 2013 and the other in April 2013, and on both occasions the claimants said MacBean had been behaving strangely during the face-to-face assessment and subsequently produced reports that were full of inaccuracies.

Only last week, DNS revealed that a nurse, a personal independence payment (PIP) assessor with extreme right-wing sympathies, was suspended by another government contractor, Capita, after she posted disablist, racist comments about social security claimants on her Facebook page.

And DNS also reports this week how a third nurse has been struck off after pretending to assess disabled people for PIP in their own homes, on behalf of Atos, when she was actually carrying out the assessments by telephone.

An NMC panel heard that MacBean’s colleagues were able to smell strong mints and alcohol on her breath on the morning of 27 June 2013 – although she denied that she had been drinking – while in the afternoon her eyes had become glazed and she was slurring her words, and her managers concluded that a bottle she had been drinking from contained wine mixed with water.

MacBean was suspended – and tried to drive home while still drunk – and later sacked by Atos for gross misconduct.

An NMC panel found that the disabled people MacBean had assessed had been put “at unwarranted risk of harm” and could have been denied benefits because “her judgment may have been impaired and her assessments not completed fully and properly”.

The decision to remove MacBean from the nursing register was taken in January but it has only emerged this week.

By 11am today (11 August), DWP had refused to say how many assessments MacBean carried out, how long she worked for Atos, and what action it had taken regarding the DLA and ESA assessments she carried out.

Atos said it could not comment on the case because it no longer holds the WCA contract – having been replaced by another controversial outsourcing giant, Maximus – and so does “not have the files or access to the files”.

11 August 2016



Atos nurse struck off over PIP assessment lies

A nurse has been struck off after pretending that she had assessed disabled people for their eligibility for disability benefits in their own homes, when she had actually carried out the assessments by telephone.

Amelia Victoria Bailey was conducting personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the government contractor Atos when her deception was discovered by her employer.

Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have since had to review every one of the assessments Bailey carried out.

Bailey’s deception was exposed when a manager realised that several of her assessment reports had been completed at times when, according to her diary, she should have been attending appointments.

When Atos contacted some of the disabled people Bailey had supposedly visited at home, many of them said their assessments had in fact been carried out by telephone.

Bailey had made up comments about the appearance of the claimants, and falsified her own clinical findings. She also submitted fake claims for travel expenses in a bid to cover her tracks.

When she was confronted by her manager, she admitted carrying out about half of her assessment reports by telephone and blamed “personal issues and a backlog of work”.

Now she has been struck off the nursing register by a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel, which found her guilty of misconduct.

The revelation of her dishonesty comes only days after Disability News Service revealed that another PIP assessor, a nurse with extreme right-wing sympathies, was suspended by another government contractor, Capita, after she posted disablist, racist comments about social security claimants on her Facebook page.

And DNS also reports this week how another nurse has been struck off for conducting “fitness for work” assessments of disabled benefit claimants while drunk.

Bailey’s NMC panel concluded that her behaviour had put the claimants she assessed at “unwarranted risk of harm”, because she would not have been able to identify their “particular needs” properly over the telephone.

It said that such dishonesty in a “sensitive area” such as disability benefits assessments meant her dishonesty was “extremely serious”.

The panel also said that her failure to show “any insight, remorse or remediation since that time suggests a risk of repetition of such behaviour”, and it pointed out that she only admitted her deceit after pressure from her manager.

The fake assessments took place between August and November 2014, and Bailey was finally struck off in June this year.

An Atos spokesman said: “The healthcare professional in question was employed by Atos for a brief period between August and November 2014.

“Our regular reporting processes identified this as an issue and enabled us to inform DWP as soon as it was discovered.

“Atos worked in partnership with the department at every stage of the process, fully investigating and reviewing every case to ensure that all claimants received a fair, correct and comprehensive assessment.

“It is important to recognise that the behaviour of the healthcare professional in question fell very short of the expectations of both Atos and the DWP.

“The NMC decision to remove the healthcare professional from the register is entirely consistent with the serious nature of these actions.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out assessments on our behalf and this behaviour is in no way tolerated by DWP.

“All claimants have the right to a fair assessment and we have been working closely with Atos to fully investigate the situation and review any cases overseen by the individual concerned.”

She said she could not disclose how many PIP assessments Bailey had carried out.

11 August 2016



DPAC will use Paralympics to highlight austerity impact in week of action

Disabled activists are to hold a week of action to coincide with the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympics, in a bid to highlight the impact of austerity-driven cuts on disability rights.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) hopes to use the publicity generated by the Rio Paralympics to draw attention to the “disproportionate impact of austerity” on disabled people.

DPAC plans to use the public interest generated by the games in the same way it did four years ago, when five days of protests focused on the hypocrisy of IT giant Atos sponsoring London 2012 at a time when it was causing “harm and suffering” to disabled people through its contract to assess claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said that next month’s week of action would “draw attention to the cumulative impact of the cuts on disabled people that are taking disabled people’s rights back decades with attacks in every area of our lives from education to independent living to employment to income”.

She pointed out that the UK has become the first country to be investigated for grave and systematic violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because of the cuts and “the ideological attacks waged by the Tory government”.

Clifford said: “Whilst we will not be protesting the games themselves we will be using this opportunity to raise awareness of the increasing number of disabled people whose access not only to sport and recreation but also to basic human rights to eat, drink and use the toilet are being taken away as a result of the cuts.”

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said the Rights Not Games week of action was not intended to oppose the games or criticise British Paralympians, but to highlight the contrast in funding for the Paralympics with the cuts in disabled people’s support in the UK.

Atos will play a major role in next month’s Paralympic Games, just as it did in London, as the “worldwide information technology partner” for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio.

Although Atos eventually pulled out of the contract to carry out work capability assessments, as a result of a sustained campaign from DPAC and other disabled activists, it now carries out assessments for personal independence payment, another source of huge concern for campaigners.

Burnip said the continuing sponsorship of the Paralympics by Atos was “offensive”, and added: “We want to compare the costs of the Paralympics to the amount that disabled people have to live on.

“Once every four years, disabled people, disabled athletes, become wonderful beings, inspirational, brave, all that sort of stuff, but in between times they are having their [Motability] cars taken off them because they don’t qualify for PIP anymore.

“It’s probably the only time that there is anything positive about disabled people. The rest of the time people are deemed to be scroungers and a burden.

“We want disabled people’s lives to be taken more notice of, and we want changes to legislation that will make that happen.”

DPAC’s week of action will include an exhibition of work by disabled artists; a lobby of parliament on Monday 5 September, the day MPs return from their summer recess, which will call for a legal right to independent living; and the launch of a report evaluating the impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, a year after it was shut down by the government.

A national day of action will take place on 6 September, with a protest in London the following day that will call for an end to deaths linked to flaws in the benefits system and draw attention to the failure of successive governments to make that system safe.

An online action will coincide with the Rio Paralympics opening ceremony from midnight UK time on Thursday 8 September.

The week will end with an international conference in north London on 10 September, with speakers attending from Greece and Canada, and others from Ireland and Germany taking part via Skype, on how to “collectivise our opposition to the impact of austerity on disabled people”.

11 August 2016



Paralympic drug cheats from London and Beijing will escape exposure, admits IPC

Drug cheats from the London and Beijing Paralympics will escape exposure because the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) could not afford to store their blood and urine samples for future retesting, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

Leading British Paralympians had called this week for samples from all medallists from the London and Beijing Paralympics to be retested in a bid to root out drug cheats who have so far evaded detection, following the decision to ban all Russian athletes from Rio 2016.

But the IPC, the world governing body of Paralympic sport, told DNS today (11 August) that it only started keeping urine and blood samples for future retesting from 2014, for the Sochi Winter Paralympics, because it previously did not have the financial resources to pay for their storage.

The IPC had previously secured widespread praise after announcing earlier this week that no Russian athletes would be allowed to take part in next month’s Paralympics, although Russia could still appeal this decision.

The IPC’s ruling contrasted with the decision of the International Olympic Committee to leave it to individual sports governing bodies to decide whether Russian athletes could compete at the Rio Olympics.

Sir Philip Craven, the British president of the IPC and himself a retired Paralympian, said that evidence from the investigation carried out by Professor Richard McLaren into allegations of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games showed that Russian Paralympic athletes were part of the state-sponsored doping programme.

Sir Philip said this amounted to “an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport”, and added: “The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised.

“I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me.”

In the wake of the IPC announcement, powerlifter Ali Jawad, who narrowly missed a medal at London 2012 and will be competing next month in Rio, called on Twitter for the IPC to retest all medallists from both the London and Beijing 2008 Paralympics.

David Weir, who won four gold medals for Britain in wheelchair racing in London, also called on Twitter for there to be re-testing of samples from the last two Paralympic Games.

Keryn Seal, a key member of the British blind football team, who competed at London 2012, told DNS that he was “really, really happy” the IPC had taken “such a strong stance on drug-taking in sport”.

And he said he believed that it was “vital” that all medallists from both the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing and London were retested.

But he said he was not fooling himself that banning Russia would “sort the problem” of doping in Paralympic sport.

Seal said: “There are going to be people who will bend the rules in sport. It is human nature.”

A spokeswoman for UK Anti-Doping, which is responsible for ensuring sports bodies in the UK are compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code and for testing UK athletes competing in Paralympic sport, said it was a matter for the IPC whether it carried out retrospective testing of samples from Beijing and London.

But she said that retrospective re-testing of urine and blood samples – they can re-test samples up to 10 years after they are first taken – was a “really vital tool” in countering doping in sport, including Paralympic sport.

Such re-testing can take advantage of technological advances in anti-doping, acting as a “huge deterrent” for athletes considering cheating.

But an IPC spokesman said today: “The IPC cannot retest samples from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 as we do not have them.

“It is only from Sochi 2014 that the IPC started keeping samples for retesting.

“The main reason for this is that at the time, the IPC did not have the financial resources to be able to pay for the storage and then the eventual re-analysis of these samples which can only be stored for a maximum of 10 years.

“Due to an increase in financial support for the IPC since London 2012, we have been able to start implementing a programme where samples from major events are stored and made available for reanalysis where needed.

“This is why we now are able to retest samples from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.”

Even though it was Russia that qualified for Rio at the expense of ParalympicsGB, after beating England in the semi-finals of last August’s European Championships, Seal said he had “no ill-will towards the Russian team”.

He said he would be surprised if there was any doping in blind football, as it was a skill-based, decision-making sport, rather than one based on endurance or power.

He said: “I can’t say for sure if the [Russian] football team were taking any performance-enhancing drugs. They didn’t play like they were.

“They did a fairly good job in parking the bus [playing defensively] against us. We weren’t able to break them down.

“On the day we weren’t good enough to win a game against them.”

But if the IPC decision stands, Russia will be replaced by Spain in the blind football in Rio, because Spain beat England – again on penalties – in a play-off for third place last August.

Seal said: “We are still awaiting official confirmation but the line coming out of the International Blind Sports Federation is that Spain will be the ones who replace them.

“They beat us in the third place play-off. Fair play and good luck to them. Spain played good football in those championships.

“I really hope they go on and make the most of that opportunity.”

11 August 2016



Government ‘could have saved £48 billion on social care’ with full funding of DFGs

The government could have saved nearly £48 billion in social care costs over five years if it had funded all the work needed to make disabled people’s homes more accessible, according to a new user-led campaigning website.

The calculations have been made by Fleur Perry, editor of Disability United, a website that aims to campaign on key issues affecting disabled people, such as housing, social care, jobs and transport.

Perry made the calculations after finding a reference to research carried out by Isle of Wight Council (see pages 16-18).

The council concluded that for every £1 invested in the disabled facilities grants (DFG) scheme, a council could save more than £7 in social care costs over the next five years.

Perry then found Department for Communities and Local Government research from 2011, which concluded that “the total amount required to cover [DFG] grants for all of those who are theoretically eligible under the current rules” in England was £1.9 billion.

Over the last five years, annual spending by central government on DFGs has ranged from just £180,000 to £220,000.

Fleur made her calculations by adding up the annual excess demand for DFGs from disabled people and multiplying that by the potential savings that could have been made if that work had been funded.

She points out that these are rough calculations and do not take account of a range of other factors, such as rising prices, an ageing population, and top-up DFG funding provided by many local councils.

But she suggests that the estimated cost savings could be even higher than £48 billion because her figures only examine social care costs, and do not include NHS spending caused by preventable falls or other accidents in inaccessible homes, the impact on other services, or the long-term, knock-on effects on the health and wellbeing of disabled people and carers.

Disability United has now launched a petition on the UK parliament website, calling on the government to fund fully all of the annual need for DFGs and “make sure that every disabled person eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant will get the support they need to make their home safe and suitable”.

Perry said the figures show that the underfunding of DFGs is “completely illogical, and needs to change”.

The government confirmed a significant increase in DFG funding at last November’s spending review, announcing that it would spend more than £500 million a year by 2019-20, funding around 85,000 home adaptations that year.

This year (2016-17), the grant increased to £394 million, a 79 per cent rise on 2015-16.

Perry welcomed the eventual increase to £500 million, but she added: “Given there are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK and a very limited accessible housing stock… 85,000 doesn’t sound like all that many.”

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “Since 2010 we have invested more than a billion pounds into the disabled facilities grant, providing around 250,000 adaptations to help older and disabled people live independently and safely in their own homes for as a long as possible.

“This year alone the disabled facilities grant has increased by 79 per cent, and will rise every year to more than £500 million by 2020.”

DCLG refused to say whether it agreed with the Isle of Wight Council figures, and whether it would therefore reconsider its DFG funding.

Isle of Wight Council was unable to comment because of “officer unavailability”.

Perry said the Disability United website would feature “real people’s stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the worlds of social care, housing, employment, transportation and all the other essentials disabled people rely on”.

She said: “We’ll be picking out key themes from these stories, and doing our utmost to speak to decision-makers and push for progress in these areas with a mixture of examples, statistics and expert analysis.”

She added: “We hear stories day after day of people’s care packages being cut below safe levels, extraordinarily long waiting-lists for essential equipment, the same paperwork battles being replayed again and again across the country, and when things go wrong lessons are not always being learned.

“Though much of this is driven by cost-cutting efforts, the effects on the people who rely upon these essentials can be indefensible, and evidence shows that when funding does not meet needs, costs can be dramatically increased in other areas.

“It makes no sense and changes need to be made.

“Disability United will be a place for everyone to share what the problems are, why they’re happening, and how they can be fixed.

“If someone has a great experience we want to share that, and if someone has a terrible experience we want to share that too, so we can look at why these experiences are so different and what can be done to change that.”

11 August 2016



Arts Council funding is ‘vote of confidence’ in disability arts organisation

The Arts Council has awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds to the disability arts movement in a bid to address the under-representation of disabled-led organisations among those receiving its funding.

Arts Council England (ACE) announced this week that it was awarding £5.3 million to 40 organisations as part of its Elevate fund, which aims to increase the diversity of applications for future funding.

ACE’s latest equality analysis, published last December, showed that diverse-led organisations, particularly those led by disabled and black and minority ethnic people, were “under-represented” among recipients of funding for its “national portfolio” of arts and cultural organisations.

Organisations awarded funding from Elevate include Disability Arts Online (DAO), which was originally set up by disabled artist Colin Hambrook in 2002, and will receive £150,000 to increase its staff, generate new ways of earning revenue, and support existing projects.

DAO will also create a new consultancy service for arts and cultural organisations, which will “support diversification of workforces, audiences and programmes, supporting equality through the arts sector”.

DAO describes itself as “a portal into the world of disability arts”, publishing editorial, blogs and listings, and “providing a place where opinion pieces, reviews and interviews can be shared and commented on”.

Another disability arts organisation to benefit from the Elevate fund is Together! 2012 CIC, which is aiming to create an international centre of excellence for disability arts in the main Paralympic host borough of Newham as part of the London 2012 legacy.

Together! 2012, which delivers a year-round programme of free arts activities for disabled people, as well as free disabled-led exhibitions, performances and events, will receive £126,000.

Dr Ju Gosling, who leads the organisation as its artistic director, said the grant was “very, very good news” and a “vote of confidence” in its work and “a clear message to other funders that they do not have to worry about the quality of what we are delivering”.

The funding will allow the organisation to continue with its commitment that all of its arts activities are “free at the point of use”, creating free, safe, accessible spaces “where disabled people can come together and share our culture”.

Part of the money will help disabled artists promote their services in disability equality training and consultancy, offering “creativity as a USP” and particularly targeting the “very large and untapped market” provided by the huge local business and finance sector in east London.

But it will also fund a unique new website that will sell the work of disabled artists, such as prints, music, books, portraits and sculptures, generating income for them and Together! 2012.

Gosling said: “There is quite a big market in black art, there is a market in feminist art, there’s a huge market in indigenous art.

“Disability art meets those same criteria. It is recognised as an international arts movement, there have been lots of exhibitions, conferences, books, but no gallery has wanted to associate itself with disabled people.”

The funding will also help Together! 2012 develop its board of directors and set up a community advisory board made up mostly of locally-based disabled artists.

Together! 2012 was inspired by the late David Morris, who led on disability for the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and was a friend of Gosling.

Before the Elevate award, Together! 2012 had already raised more than £160,000 in funding, including six grants from ACE’s Grants for the Arts programme, as well as funding from trusts, public sector bodies and local businesses.

It began as a free disability arts and human rights festival, spreading across the London 2012 Paralympic Games and UK Disability History Month, but in July 2013 it launched as a social enterprise.

Over the last three years it has delivered activities in at least 22 venues across the borough of Newham.

Next month it will run a tent at the mayor of London’s Liberty Festival, in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on 3 September, just days before the opening of the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

The tent will showcase emerging local talent for the third year in a row, while Together! 2012 will also produce performances around the Olympic Park site for the first time.

Gosling said she was “incredibly proud” of what the organisation had achieved over the last four years through “a team effort”, despite the challenges it had faced and the lack of London 2012 legacy funding for Newham.

She said: “There are now free cultural spaces for disabled people to come out and meet and network and enjoy themselves, whether it’s watching a film, coming to a poetry café, going to an exhibition, a performance.

“We have got some of the most accessible public transport in London, all of our shopping centres have got step-free access; there are very positive things to say about Newham and we want to ensure that a central part of the Paralympic legacy is to say that disabled people are always welcomed here, even if only by us.”

She added: “Disabled people have come together to produce something from 2012 which allowed the local community to engage with the Paralympics when nothing else was being done.

“Nobody gave us permission to do it, nobody asked us to do it. It’s all come from disabled people. I think that’s still unusual in this day and age.

“I like to think that by doing it ourselves as disabled people, it has probably been done a lot better.

“I think there is still something quite special about seeing a bunch of disabled people in one of the poorest areas of the UK, most of them people of colour, coming together from across impairment groups.”

Other disabled-led arts organisations to receive Elevate funding include Salford-based DIY Theatre, which is led by people with learning difficulties and receives £109,560 to support a three-year project to increase its capacity and develop its organisation.

Abid Hussain, ACE’s director of diversity, said: “Diversity is a crucial priority for the Arts Council and the increased scale of our investment through the Elevate fund is a further demonstration of our ambition to drive forward meaningful change.

“We hope it will help ensure the diversity of England is more accurately reflected across our national portfolio over the longer term.”

11 August 2016



Charity calls for WRAG exemption from benefits cap

A leading user-led charity has called for more disabled people to be exempt from the cap on working-age benefits, after the publication of new government figures.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) spoke out after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published figures showing that more than 3,100 households which included someone claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) were having their benefits capped in May 2016*.

Although those in the ESA support group, and claimants of disability living allowance and personal independence payment, are exempt from the cap, those in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) are not.

The figures show that 15 per cent of the 20,000 households affected by the cap included someone claiming ESA.

DR UK called for all ESA claimants, including those in the WRAG, to be exempt from the cap.

Liz Sayce, DRUK’s chief executive, said there needed to be more flexibility from employers, personalised support for disabled people, and advice and support for employers, to help those people in the WRAG who want to get back into work.

She said: “We need a strong strategy from government to help disabled people and employers make this happen – not capping benefits or reducing entitlement to disability benefit via PIP that just drive disabled people into greater poverty.”

The DWP figures were released as Joseph Rowntree Foundation-funded research showed nearly half of people (48 per cent) living in poverty are disabled or live in a household with a disabled person, while two-thirds of single disabled adults live in poverty.

The Disability And Poverty report, due to be published today (11 August) by the New Policy Institute (NPI), also shows disabled people experience higher rates of poverty than non-disabled people, and are more likely to be unable to afford basic goods and services.

Mags Lewis, disability spokeswoman for the Green party, said the report “shines a light on the dreadful inequality still facing disabled people in our society”.

She said: “Conservative austerity cuts affect disabled people six times more severely than anyone else; for example, two-thirds of families affected by the bedroom tax have a disabled person in them. We are now seeing the effects of these policies.

“If the government takes this report seriously, it must scrap the bedroom tax, reinstate the Independent Living Fund, and reconsider changes to ESA.”

The NPI publication came as the Guardian reported on new unpublished research which it said showed that claimants of old-style incapacity benefit who live in poorer parts of the country are more likely to be found fit for work when they are reassessed for ESA through the work capability assessment (WCA) than those in better-off areas.

Lewis said the findings – due to be published next week – “provide yet more evidence that the WCA is not only unfit for purpose but is perpetuating injustice and inequality”.

DR UK said it was “very concerned” by the report, and that disabled people “have a right to expect to be assessed fairly and consistently in relation to their benefit entitlement, regardless of where they live”.

Meanwhile, new research by DR UK and welfare-to-work provider Reed in Partnership found one in 11 people (nine per cent) involved in recruitment, human resources and leadership positions in business do not feel confident that their organisation would be able to support a disabled employee.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of those surveyed claimed that their business would be more likely to employ disabled people if job applicants were more open about their impairments, and nearly a third (31 per cent) of more than 300 respondents said businesses were worried that disabled people would claim discrimination if a job did not work out.

Half of those surveyed (49 per cent) said that additional funding for adaptations would help businesses retain disabled people in employment.

The report suggests that factors that explain the disability employment gap include lack of confidence among employers; inadequate support for disabled people and employers; and the gap in skills and qualifications between disabled and non-disabled people.

Sayce said: “We want to see employers work to create cultures in which people living with impairments or health conditions feel more confident to be open about what they need at work.

“We would also encourage senior colleagues who themselves live with health conditions or impairments to be open about their experiences and show that disability and health issues are an ordinary part of working life.”

*Households affected by the cap can currently claim only £26,000 a year, or £18,200 if the claimant is single and has no children living with them.

From this autumn, this will fall to £20,000 a year, or £13,400 for those who are single (or £23,000 and £15,410 for those in London).

11 August 2016



Countdown to Rio: Britain’s most successful boccia star bids for fifth medal

He is Britain’s most successful boccia player, and will be taking part in his fifth Paralympics, but Nigel Murray is as excited about Rio 2016 as he was about taking part in his first games in Sydney 16 years ago.

Murray already has four Paralympic medals, including two golds – he is the fifth most successful Paralympic boccia athlete – and will be going to Rio with strong medal chances in the individual BC2 and BC1/BC2 team competitions.

He told Disability News Service that he and his fellow team members have worked just as hard in training as they did in the lead-up to London 2012.

As an athlete with cerebral palsy, he said the sport is physically draining because of the need to use so much energy during matches.

So from July onwards, the ParalympicsGB boccia team have been balancing the intensity of their training with the need to get as much rest as possible in the lead-up to competition.

He said: “All the hard work has been done over the last seven or eight months and now it’s just getting ready and having a bit of tapering off, but because the game we play is a hand-eye coordination game you don’t want to stop altogether, you want to keep yourself just ticking over.”

Training over the last months has been a combination of conditioning sessions at home, including physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, with coming together as a team two or three times a month for three, four or five days at a time.

Murray has experience of competing in Rio, as he took part in the Rio 2016 test event last October, so he’s done some “groundwork” and has shared that experience with other members of the squad.

Recovery time from the lengthy flight from London to Rio will be crucial, he said, and the “exhaustion” of long-haul flights is something he and his boccia team-mates will have to cope with.

He said: “It’s preparing yourself for that and the journey and ensuring when you get there that you get the adequate amount of recovery time to give you the optimum time to feel at your best to compete.”

The boccia squad fly out to Brazil on 2 September, with the opening ceremony on 7 September, and will have well over a week before they start competing.

Murray said: “It gives us plenty of time to acclimatise to the change in time clocks, get over the travels and the jet lag and get some good quality training time in readiness to start competing.”

Long-distance international travel is something the British team are used to now, said Murray, who has watched the popularity of boccia grow over the nearly 20 years he has been playing, with more than 40 countries now playing the sport.

He said that putting the new ParalympicsGB kit on for the first time was “fantastic”.

He said: “It’s just as exciting as it was the first time. I’m as proud as I was back in 2000 when I went out to Sydney.”

And he is excited, too, about the boccia squad’s medal chances.

The BC1/BC2 team he is a member of is ranked second in the world, while he is ranked in the top 10 in BC2 singles.

David Smith is the world number two in the BC1s, while Stephen McGuire is world champion in the BC4s.

The squad also features the McCowan brothers, Jamie and Scott.

Murray is optimistic about the development of boccia, although he is “frustrated” – as DNS reported last month – that yet again there will not be live television coverage of the sport at Rio.

Despite the lack of live coverage, he said that London 2012 helped boost the sport’s profile across the world, and not just in Britain.

He said: “It has raised the standard across the world; there are better competitions, more competitions, everything is bigger and better, standards are raised.

“When I came into the sport in 1999, I would never have dreamed that if I was still playing [in 2016] that the sport would be a professional sport.

“I’m very proud of my sport. It’s not a sport that has the high profile of many of the sports but I’m very proud of saying I’m a boccia player and will do anything actively to promote my sport and the benefits and merits of my sport and as athletes what we achieve.

“It’s a great sport that anybody can play and that’s why I find it a little frustrating because unless we get that key to the door that lets us in and we can really showcase our sport, it does make it difficult for us to compete in the profile stakes.”

11 August 2016


News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com