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ACC Bullying - Our Patience Wears Thin

Howard’s End

ACC Bullying Black-list Wears Thin

The patience of New Zealander's will be wearing rather thin with the Accident Compensation Corporation following the latest revelations over the weekend by the Sunday Star-Times that doctor's are putting some ACC case manager's on a black-list over their bullying. Maree Howard writes.

Star-Times reporters, Donna Chisholm and Pravin Char, have reported that some ACC case managers have been approaching doctor's seeking to produce medical assessments to get patients off the ACC scheme and doctor's are not happy.

Scoop recently carried the story about the Ombudsman's concerns in the annual report over perceptions of bias with medical assessors to which claimants are sent by ACC.

But ACC CEO Garry Wilson is reported saying he was unaware of any inappropriate behaviour by case managers. ACC Minister Hon Ruth Dyson simply refused to comment.

If that is the case then, firstly, Mr Wilson must go, quickly followed by Ms Dyson.

At the very least, it seems he is not up to speed with what is happening in the organisation he leads - he is expected to know. The public demands nothing less from the CEO of a multi-billion dollar organisation which effects the public's everyday lives either as levy-payers or claimants.

Scoop has carried four reports about ACC over recent months where claimants have complained bitterly about the confrontational and adversarial behaviour of ACC staff and about referrals for "hit men" doctor assessments.

Claimants have also written to ACC Board members about lack of rehabilitation entitlements while ACC collects $2 billion from the general public to do just that.

Scoop has also been told by claimants that when they write to Mr Wilson about their concerns he simply flicks their letter on to the ACC complaint's investigator who is seen by many claimants as about as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike.

It is also a supreme irony that the Prime Minister complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the way she was "ambushed" by TV3's John Campbell over the Corngate scandal, yet ACC claimants say they can also be ambushed at a review hearing of ACC's decisions which is run by ACC subsidiary, Disputes Resolution Services Ltd, but nobody seems interested, least of all the Prime Minister who seems to support ACC to the hilt.

The latest allegations to Scoop is that reviewers will not allow claimants to exchange submissions between themselves and ACC prior to a hearing over decisions and they have no idea what will be said or used against them. Yet the new ACC Act seems to say that reviewers must adopt an investigative approach and actually conduct a review - not just a hearing.

Even worse, there are now as-yet unconfirmed allegations surfacing that Dispute Resolution Services Ltd are providing monthly 'adverse decision reports' to ACC where ACC has lost reviews and why that loss occurred. Yet the ACC Act says that reviewers must act independently.

In another irony, on the eve of the weekend that the Star-Times broke its ACC story the State Sector Standards Board reported; "Regrettably instances of inappropriate behaviour continue to come to light and.....there is a need to be vigilant, in terms of behavioural standards, effective systems, and commitment to leadership."

" There does not appear to have been any significant developments in the ethos of the state sector since the board's last report (June 2001). Concerns about ethical and managerial standards of organisations in the public sector....cast a shadow over public organisations," the Board says.

It also reported that there were still areas of "significant concern" in the State Sector which included the quality of leadership and inadequate attention to staff.

>From Scoop's knowledge of ACC, the State Sector Standards Board could well have been speaking solely about ACC.

But then, ACC seems to have a compliant Minister who has signed an agreement with it to reduce1500 claimants in 2002-2003 no matter what their disability or circumstances. With an ACC case manager salary band between $48,000 and $70,000, according to the DominionPost, is it little wonder case managers want to get to the top as quick as they can? Obviously, in a cost-cutting culture those who cut most are likely to gain the greatest reward - that's human nature.

The media has started to report more fully about public concerns with the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Of late, the NZ Herald has run further articles following-on from Geoff Cummings' in-depth stories in 2000, the Dominion Post has also again picked-up on the ACC thread, as has the Otago Daily Times. About the only daily newspaper which has done little on ACC is The Press in Christchurch.

Even TVOne's The Holmes Show has carried two stories about ACC in the last month or so. I also expect to see 20/20 broadcast its ACC stories shortly.

If there is one thing which journo's generally despise it is injustice.The propaganda is over - get on with the public inquiry into ACC procedures which many claimants and others have been calling for over recent months.

It won't be the first - former Chief District Court Judge Peter Trapski found similar problems with ACC in 1994 yet nothing seems to have changed. It's a good scheme that has been allowed to degenerate. Scoop wrote in an earlier column - It's broke, so fix it? Minister, the buck stops with you!.

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