'Unreasonable delay' in Health Com. Inquiry
Hon Jim Anderton
Deputy Prime Minister
27 February 2000
Ombudsman finds 'unreasonable delay' in Health Commissioner's Inquiry
An investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner into privatised amputee services in Northland and Auckland has been delayed unreasonably, the Ombudsman has found.
Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton asked Commissioner Robin Stent to investigate three years ago, but despite repeated assurances she has never completed her report.
"The Ombudsman's finding is damning. The Health and Disability Commissioner is there to protect patients who in this case were the victims of appalling treatment. The Commissioner has failed those vulnerable amputees," he said.
Since the investigation began, the company at the centre of complaints has been wound up, the Regional Health Authority that hired it has been abolished and the Audit Office has completed its own damning inquiry into the contract for the care of amputees.
Jim Anderton first laid a complaint on behalf of eight amputees on 8 April 1997, a month after the then National-NZ First Government privatised amputee services in Auckland.
When the then Northern RHA switched the contract from the Auckland artificial limb centre to the privately-owned RML on 1 march 1997, complaints about the quality and timeliness of service flooded into Mr Anderton's office. On receiving the complaint, Mrs Stent predicted the investigation would be completed by September 1997.
With numerous complaints continuing to swamp the privatised service, Mr Anderton called in the Ombudsman in February 1999 to ask why the Commissioner had not reported.
In August last year the Ombudsman accepted an assurance from Commissioner Stent that her inquiry would be wound up by September. Now the Ombudsman too has lost patience, telling the Commissioner:
'I really have no alternative but to sustain Mr Anderton's complaint about unreasonable delay….Various promises have been made since 1997 to complete the investigation within a certain time frame which have not been kept. To give an assessment of a completion date and not adhere to it, on the grounds that other matters are occupying your time is, in my opinion, not a valid basis for failing to accord the matter the priority that was promised. I have therefore sustained Mr Anderton's complaint [of unreasonable delay].
"This was a matter of urgency. Amputees were complaining because they couldn't get their limbs repaired or fitted properly. There were complaints such as limbs being sent to Australia for eight weeks and then being returned ill-fitting," Jim Anderton said.
"The whole episode showed that the National Party's privatisation of health has been a disaster for patients. The Commissioner, who was supposed to protect patients rights in the privatised system has failed to step in where she was needed."