This post appeared as an article in the Sunday Star Times on Sunday the 17th of June, 2012: click here for the original
A survey around sensitive claims and the treatment of sexual abuse victims has raised more questions about the Accident Compensation Corporation.
It comes as a senior manager’s comments are being interpreted as confirming there was pressure from the board on staff to dump sex abuse claimants.
Allegations ACC had turned from rehabilitating clients to saving money have seen three board members, including chairman John Judge, and chief executive Ralph Stewart, quit.
Now, the man behind the survey of 146 health professionals and 72 abuse victims, psychotherapist and blogger Kyle MacDonald, says there has been a “cold-blooded” directive from the board to look after the “bottom-line” regardless of the cost to victims.
In 2009 ACC reinterpreted the rules around sensitive claims so a diagnosed psychiatric illness was required to determine mental harm. That left many people ineligible for help, and led to a public outcry.
A year later former ACC Minister Nick Smith urged the corporation to adopt recommendations from a review, but MacDonald says the survey shows only two have been adopted, five have not been, four have returned mixed results, and another four were not being measured. Now a transcript of a presentation by claims general manager Denise Cosgrove last November acknowledges the sensitive claims changes “didn’t work so well”, and appears to confirm ACC was removing “low-hanging fruit and easy gains” from the scheme.
“I get that constant message from the board every day,” she said.
Green Party ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said the survey showed there was “wilful resistance” to the call to improve, and, because there was a “culture of disentitlement”, the board should be replaced. Labour’s Andrew Little said: “They will say it is legitimate to minimise costs, but the whole basis of ACC is treatment, compensation for the bulk of your losses and rehabilitation.”
An ACC spokesman said MacDonald was only one of those giving feedback and there would be no comment until a final report, which was “imminent”, but Cosgrove’s comments referred to system improvements, not claimants.
MacDonald dismissed that. “It’s hard to interpret in any other way than referring to specific cases and claims.”
He said the issue for claimants was ACC refusing to accept the advice of clinicians working with victims, and insisting they be interviewed by its own assessors. “You are required to report intimate and distressing detail to a complete stranger”, which had an “incredibly detrimental effect”.
“There has been a very intentional aim of getting the longest and most expensive claimants out. It’s cold-blooded. What has become clear is that ACC is being directed from ministerial and board level to focus on the bottom line and that has been at the expense of sensitive claimants.”
A spokeswoman for ACC Minister Judith Collins said board comments were a matter for the board but the minister expected ACC to check claims veracity carefully and to treat all professionally.
40.4 per cent say ACC has done “very little” to protect client safety
37.8 per cent say ACC has done “very little” to protect client therapeutic relationship
42.5 per cent say ACC has done “very little” to implement changes
Claimants 29.3 per cent say ACC has “not at all” protected their safety
38.1 per cent say ACC has “not at all” protected their therapeutic relationship
50.6 per cent say ACC has “not at all” implemented changes
– © Fairfax NZ News