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Howard's End: Dumping Culture Must Be Changed

ACC Minister Ruth Dyson has confirmed that she has asked ACC to review its decision to dump Christchurch boy Ryan Becker from the ACC scheme next week. But there are others and it's the ACC dumping culture which the Government has signed-up to that has to change. Maree Howard writes.

Following Scoop's story yesterday about Ryan Becker's case, the Christchurch boy who was bashed unconscious by a dog in 1993 and who ACC intended to dump from the scheme next week, Scoop's fax almost went into meltdown with yet more stories of the ACC culture to rid itself of injured claimants in a policy now being labelled "deny and dump."

One story, which brought rolling tears to the eyes of this correspondent, is about the case of new-born baby which got as far as the High Court in Auckland in 1999 before Justice Anderson effectively said: "Enough already!"

It is the case of a premature infant girl, born by caesarean section, who contracted meningitis while in a hospital incubator. This resulted in serious brain damage and spastic quadriplegia.

ACC maintained throughout the Court cases that the infant's placement in the incubator was not "treatment."

It argued that treatment must be confined to overt acts of intervention by way of care such as monitoring, administering formula, fluid examinations and measuring blood glucose.

ACC's concern was that if a wide interpretation of "treatment" was adopted, patient's could be eligible for compensation on the grounds of medical mishap, simply for suffering an injury in a healthcare environment.

The Court did not accept that the word "treatment" should be so confined.

Justice Anderson said there was no need to go beyond the ordinary meaning of "treatment" defined in the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as "the application of medical care or attention to a patient, ailment etc."

The High Court agreed with the District Court judge that:

"In those all stages of her short life to the point of her contracting meningitis she was in a state of treatment. Every aspect of her environment and attention was part of a necessary treatment for her survival."

As I read this case my anger and frustration - and my emotions - boiled over.

I thought about the parents of that infant girl and how they must have suffered with the pain, the hurt, and the anger, let alone the stress of the Court cases. More than that they now faced life, not only with a severely disabled new-born baby, but a lifetime of commitment to caring for their disabled child as it grew.

And I thought that all this disgraceful ACC organisation wanted to do was effectively laugh in their faces and desperately try escape it's responsibilities to provide support.

My God!, it went to extraordinary lengths to deny the parents and the baby any support - it kept at them, taking it right up to the High Court. Can we ever begin to imagine the anguish, let alone the financial cost to those parents, just to get some help and support for their baby.

I am now even more convinced that ACC is a New Zealand scandal and it is a New Zealand disgrace - and worse, they are doing what they do in our name.

This Government is also a disgrace. While it reacts to one media story about one boy and the Minister now says she wants a review of Ryan Becker's case by an independent specialist and a review of how ACC made its decision, it will not act on growing calls for a full public inquiry into the whole disgraceful culture and mindset which remains from the top down in ACC.

Sorry Minister, not good enough!

And anyway aren't doctors who assess injured people already supposed to be independent. Your ACC Minister, it ain't mine, called for the "independent" assessment of Ryan Becker in the first place and wants to dump him because of it. And your Government signed-up to the agreement to dump 1500 long-term claimants this year.

As a European friend wrote last week - "New Zealand is a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there."


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