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Doctors clear medical vetting for benefits

29 July 2004 Media Statement

Doctors clear medical vetting for benefits

The Ministry of Social Development is satisfied that clients on the unemployment benefit are not being moved to sickness benefits unnecessarily, after meeting with the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) today.

The Ministry’s head of Work and Income, Ray Smith, met with NZMA Chief Executive Cameron McIvor today to discuss the issue. The meeting follows reports in Monday’s New Zealand Herald, later repeated by other media, that the service was routinely encouraging unemployment benefit recipients to get medical clearance for the sickness and invalids benefits. An editorial in the paper called for resignations if the allegations were proved.

Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey Steve Maharey said that the issue had been taken very seriously, but the NZMA had today been unable to provide any cases where they believe case managers have wrongly referred clients to doctors for medical certificates.

“The allegation that Work and Income was clearing its job seeker register by shifting unemployment beneficiaries on to non-work tested disability benefits was treated very seriously. Not a single case has been produced to substantiate this claim. Opposition MPs have not been able to produce evidence to back similar allegations and my office has also been contacted by a doctor quoted in the Herald story complaining it misrepresented the conversation he had with a reporter. We now know that the current referral system is not being abused.

“Work and Income has no policy of moving the unemployed on to sickness benefits.

“At today’s meeting both the NZMA and Work and Income agreed that case managers are not medical professionals, and that doctors are the best people to medically certify whether a person has conditions that prevent them from working. If a doctor turns a client down in a medical assessment that is what we would expect. A doctor is better able to certify if a client is able-bodied and fit for work.

“Work and Income also agreed today to work further with the NZMA on this issue. We know that some doctors can feel pressured by patients who have a high expectation that they will receive a medical certificate which qualifies them to receive disability-related benefits. Work and Income will look at its referral system to ensure it is not raising expectations and procedures are being followed correctly.

“It is very unfortunate that so much time has been wasted this week on an inaccurate story,” Steve Maharey said.

ENDS

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