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Programme to support Drs. in benefit assessments

25 January 2005 Media Statement

New programme to support doctors in sickness benefit assessments

The government has announced a new programme to support assessment procedures for sickness beneficiaries, Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said today.

“The increasing number of New Zealanders applying for the Sickness and Invalids Benefits means it is timely for these processes to be examined to ensure people are receiving their full and correct entitlement,” Steve Maharey said.

"The Ministry of Social Development will work closely with the Medical Association, the College of GPs and other GPs over the next few months to develop the processes and ensure GPs are well informed about the new programme.

“People are eligible for Sickness or Invalids Benefit if they are too sick to work or have a disability that prevents them from working. Work and Income case managers are reliant on GPs to diagnose and certify that clients are eligible for the Sickness Benefit. People applying for Invalids Benefit are assessed by doctors designated by MSD while people applying for Sickness Benefits are generally seen by their own doctors.

"Feedback from GPs and the learning experience of ACC shows that some doctors would like greater support in their decision making on medical eligibility.

“A new system is being developed which will mean that GPs can seek a second opinion in situations where they have some doubt about a client’s eligibility for Sickness Benefit. This doubt may arise from the nature of the client’s condition or the broader ongoing relationship that the GP has with the client and their family.

“The new second opinion process will initially operate in Wellington before being refined and rolled out around the rest of the country.

“The government believes a second opinion scheme for some Sickness Benefit applicants is a better option than using designated doctors for all applications for Sickness Benefit. In the past designated doctors were used with Sickness Beneficiaries but it was found that assessments didn’t significantly change over the assessment of a person’ own GP. It was also costly.

“New Zealand compares well with most western countries in terms of the numbers of working age people receiving sickness or disability related benefits. The recent growth in numbers is in line with other OECD countries. At five percent, the proportion of our working aged population receiving these benefits is amongst the lowest across OECD countries.

“The record low level of unemployment creates an opportunity to provide greater help to people on Sickness and Invalids Benefits who want to work, recognising that for many people this return to work will be a graduated one."

New services for people on Sickness and Invalids Benefit have been developed to help them into employment. These initiatives include:

- Enhanced Case Management

The dramatic fall in unemployment since Labour took office – 100,000 people have come off the unemployment rolls since 1999 – has meant that the Enhanced Case Management practice can now be extended to Sickness and Invalid's Benefit recipients. Resources have been reallocated nation-wide to allow case managers to better assess and remove the obstacles that keep beneficiaries from returning to work.

Work and Income is now moving towards a national goal of 225 clients for every Sickness and Invalid's case manager – down from the previous average of 350. Already in the 14 Jobs Jolt concept sites, which include Hamilton, New Plymouth and Greymouth, the case management load is down by over half to 160.

- Health Services

A key component of the New Service is the innovative PATHS (Providing Access to Health Solutions) programme. PATHS was successfully piloted in Manukau last year, launched in Wellington in December, and Cabinet has now agreed to the concept being extended to a further four regions with Western Bay of Plenty being first on the list.

The programme works by helping beneficiaries identify all of the health treatment options available to them and by providing access to crucial services that will enable them to get back to work – these include physiotherapy and fitness programmes.

- Employment Programmes

Tailor-made programmes are now available for people on the Sickness and Invalid's Benefits that will help overcome workplace barriers to work. These programmes include Workwise (in Auckland, a programme for people with long-term severe mental health conditions) and Kaleidoscope (in Christchurch, designed for people with spinal conditions).

- Skills identification

Preparations are now underway for a national rollout of Preparing for Work - an assessment tool that enables Work and Income case managers to identify the skills and abilities of clients who want to work. A pilot of Preparing for Work has been successful in over 16 sites across the country.

- Services to employers

A new project has been approved that will provide support and information to employers that will help them hire and retain staff with ill health or a disability. This new initiative complements work that is already underway to identify the barriers faced by employers in hiring such staff.


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