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ACC Cuts Loose Dog-Bashed-Boy


ACC Cuts Loose Dog-Bashed-Boy

ACC is yet again under public scrutiny following revelations in The Press newspaper and on television that a Christchurch boy bashed unconscious by a dog in 1993, is to be dumped from the scheme next week after a fresh assessment commissioned by ACC has doctors changing their minds. Maree Howard writes.

Ryan Becker was savaged as a toddler by a german shepherd-rottweiller dog who bashed him unconscious against the walls and floor of a narrow hallway. He underwent extensive surgery requiring more than two hundred stitches to his face which was almost torn off.

Since then he has been experiencing brain seizures, headaches and behavioural problems which ACC initially accepted was linked to to the 1993 mauling - but now it has changed its mind following a fresh medical assessment in which Christchurch paediatric specialist, Dr Russell Austin, who is reported saying in his report requested by ACC, that Ryan has an epilepsy syndrome that is unrelated to the dog-bite injury.

This raises serious public safety questions about the medical profession generally and the competence and ability of doctors to initially diagnose and treat injuries.

Doctors must be feeling terribly demoralised and angry today when the diagnosis they have made and reports they have written about an injury diagnosis over many years, is subsequently overturned by ACC-appointed doctors. The Medical Council of NZ must also be very worried, as is the public in terms of their health and safety and their confidence in the medical profession.

Ryan's own GP, Dr Leigh Hooper, is concerned by the efforts taken to get Ryan off the scheme. "ACC just keeps going and keeps going until they find someone who says the opposite.," he said

Dr Hooper's comments follow the Sunday Star-Times front-page revelations late last year where it was reported that ACC case managers were being black-listed by some doctors for seeking biased medical reports.

Later revelations by the Star-Times investigation into ACC had the president of the Auckland Physiotherapists Association, Jill Henry, criticising ACC for cost cutting on treatment approvals to the point of having to do what ACC wants which was not always in the best interests of the patient.

She also criticised gagging clauses in ACC contracts which prevented physiotherapists from criticising. She also had sympathy for the position in which the "pet providers" found themselves. "They don't get up in the morning and say 'I want to betray my patient's today'. They know if they don't, they will lose their livelihood," she was reported saying.

ACC's use of medical "hit men" was a term first introduced by former Chief District Court judge Peter Trapski in his report from the Inquiry into ACC Procedures in 1994 which was scathing of the practice.

No-one is saying that the diagnosis of Ryan by Dr Russel Austin is wrong or that he is anything but a highly professional person, but the changed diagnosis must raise the public safety question about the competence of all the other doctors and specialists who have found the opposite and presumably provided treatment for Ryan in the years following his accident and injury.

The lives and treatment of patient's and the public and their continued confidence in the medical profession is just too important to ignore that question.

After all, if Ryan is now diagnosed with epilepsy what drugs, medications and treatments was he given in the years following his injury which may have been wrong for that condition? It is a very serious question which must be addressed by the Medical Council. The public interest demands nothing less because in the long run, it is the protection and enhancement of the public's health and safety which is paramount.

Long-term ACC claimant's are also angry because they see ACC's decision to dump Ryan Becker next week as just another instance of ACC ridding itself of its budgeted 1500 long term claimants this year of which this injured young boy is just one.

As a young boy Ryan will not be receiving weekly compensation payments because he would not have been earning a wage, so what ACC is trying to do now is escape from even paying for his treatment and any medications he needs - and that's a disgrace.

As one claimant put it to Scoop, " Can't fix the symptoms from the accident, so change the cause of it. That's ACC's practice."

Following The Press revelations, TV One news picked up on the story for its six o'clock news. Spokesman Fraser Floster said ACC was not happy with the diagnosis either.

But hang on, ACC itself called for the fresh assessment and is going to dump Ryan next week because of it - until the media got hold of it. So it's a bit rich when you get caught out by the media to try that line on.

Claimant's are further infuriated by ACC Minster Ruth Dyson's response. She was quoted on the six o'clock news calling for an internal ACC review of Ryan's case - and that stance is not treating all people equally.

Ryan's case is obviously serious but so are thousands of others in the same position who the Minister alo knows about. If we are to have Government and Ministerial action depending on whether you are caught out by the news media including TV news, then fairness and equality before the law has flown out the window.

In the normal course of events, a claimant in Ryan's position would have to pay for another specialist to counter-act the ACC medical assessment, then probably enage a lawyer to file for a review of the decision, and then be prepared to go to Appeal in the District Court and even the High Court and Court of Appeal - a few thousand dollars down the drain fighting a multi-billion dollar organisation determined to have its own way irrespective of the pain and suffering of the claimant.

The new ACC legislation is firstly to provide for an appropriate quality of life. In Ryan Becker's case and for thousands of other unfortunately injured people, it simply isn't happening - it remains an ACC culture of deny and dump and that hasn't changed since the National Goverment was dumped in 1999 - it's got worse.


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