15 April 2014

ACC privacy ruling welcomed for sensitive claimants

A press release from the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists
Yesterday’s District Court ruling, that the standard ACC release of information form the “ACC 167” is illegal, has been welcomed by psychotherapists and clinicians working with sexual abuse survivors.
“The Disley Independent Clincial review of the ACC’s treatment of sensitive claimants, undertaken in 2010, outlined serious concerns about this form and the ACC’s approach to the gathering of health information. This decision is welcomed, but long overdue” says Kyle MacDonald, New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists Public Issues spokesperson.
The Disley review included a legal opinion, which noted concerns about the ACC 167, and explained the limitations that apply to the collection of health information. Those working with all ACC claimants, and specifically in the sexual violence sector, have long expressed these concerns.
“We’ve known for a long time that this form, and its implementation, has caused specific problems for sensitive claimants” says Kyle MacDonald, “it has been common practice for the ACC to request ALL of a claimants GP or Mental health notes, and not accept a health professional acting in accordance with the Privacy act by providing only those parts of the record relevant to the claim. Furthermore the ACC have quite explicitly declined to advance a claim if individuals refuse to sign the waiver due to quite legitimate privacy concerns.”
This has set up a perception that ACC have gone on “fishing expeditions” for reasons to decline claims, rather than sticking to the limits of the Privacy Act, like all other health professionals are required to do.
“Hopefully this decision allows people who have had their claim declined due
to the illegal acquisition of health information to have their claim revisited. It should also allow those who have had their claim declined due to their refusal to sign this form to also re-apply for cover and treatment.”

ACC compo policy 'wrong in law'

An article from the New Zealand Herald by Martin Johnston
Form requesting signature to consent to information with threat of compensation cut is deemed unlawful.
A judge has overturned ACC's policy of cutting off accident claimants' compensation if they refuse to approve widespread gathering of information about themselves. The Accident Compensation Corporation's actions were "without basis and wrong in law", District Court Judge Grant Powell says in two just-released verdicts. The decisions come 2 years after ACC's mass privacy breach.
ACC, asked yesterday if it was following the judge's advice to rewrite the ACC167 form, said the form was "not illegal". ACC was "amending the relevant processes to address the matters raised by the court". ACC argued before the court cases that the blanket consent form provided "administrative efficiency".
Claimants Denise Powell, a part-time university lecturer who had a back injury, and "K", a sexual abuse victim and brain injury claimant, appealed against ACC cutting off their entitlements after they repeatedly refused to sign the ACC167 form. Their entitlements were reinstated after they eventually signed but they said they only signed because they were put under duress. Both claimants previously had arrangements with ACC to give it consent to obtain specific information relating to their claims case-by-case. This system ran for several years until 2009 and 2010 when case managers indicated the corporation could no longer accept those arrangements and they would have to sign the form or lose their entitlements.
But Judge Powell said the ACC167 form was much broader in its consent to gather information than the requirement in the Accident Compensation Act that claimants approve the release of "medical and other records that may be relevant to the claim". ACC was justified to seek a wide range of information and could request consent for this from claimants. But it could use section 117/3 of the act to cut off entitlements for refusing consent only for the "medical and other records" specified in the act, and not for the wider information search that ACC167 enabled.
The judge cites, as an example of the kind of wider information sought, Dr Powell's ACC case manager asking her GP if the medical certificates he wrote accurately reflected the amount of work she was capable of doing. "It would appear," the case manager wrote, "that the hours both paid and unpaid combined could almost exceed a full week's work. If you do not agree will you please provide your reasons."
Dr Powell, an ACC claimants' support group spokeswoman, said the case manager's letter was inappropriate and after a complaint she was assigned to a different case manager. "K" told the corporation he was concerned about its use or possible misuse of private information including details about his sensitive claim with ACC.
Warren Forster, the advocate for both claimants, said there had been a long line of failed appeals against having ACC payments stopped because of refusing to sign the ACC167 form, but there had not been full legal argument on the issue before the K and Powell cases. ACC is setting up a dedicated phone line for clients with historical consent concerns.

• ACC consent concern line 0800 745 254.

Form filling
• ACC167 form asked claimants to sign: "I give my consent for information about me to be collected, used and disclosed..."
• The Accident Compensation Act says: "A claimant who receives any entitlement must, when reasonably required to do so by the corporation...authorise the corporation to obtain medical and other records that may be relevant to the claim."
• What the judge said: "In my view, even a casual glance at the ACC167 form...shows that the authorisation is considerably more extensive than provided by section 72, 1, c [of the act]."
© 2014 APN New Zealand Ltd


08 April 2014

Sexual-violence inquiry reveals gaps in services and funding shortfall

An article from the New Zealand Herald by Isaac Davison
John was first referred to sexual violence services aged 12. His mother was schizophrenic and his father, a gang member with a violent history, was in prison.
After he began acting out violently and sexually at school, Child, Youth and Family (CYF) shuffled him through foster homes in his rural neighbourhood. He failed to improve, and was moved to a specialist home in a nearby city, where he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
John's life turned around when he was transferred to a state-funded residential treatment programme.
"He did exceptionally well," said Lesley Ayland, chief executive of the Harmful Sexual Behaviour Sector.
"He made a huge improvement in his learning, his behaviour settled, he returned to the group home and continued to do well. He was on track to attend university."
But when John turned 17, CYF closed its case because he had become an adult. There was no equivalent support for adults. He returned home to his mother, who was refusing medication. His behaviour deteriorated and he reoffended.
John's story was one of several complex and tragic cases told to a major inquiry into sexual violence services in New Zealand, which resumes hearings in Wellington tomorrow. Doctors, victims, psychologists, lobby groups and officials warned Parliament's social services committee last week that there were a number of gaps in the current system. They expressed concern about long waits for services, uncertainty about continued funding, total absence of funding for some sectors, and the struggle to help Maori, rural, transgender or intersex clients.
National crime statistics released last week revealed a 10 per cent increase in sexual assaults between 2012 and 2013. The trend could reflect increased reporting of abuse, not a rise in the rate of assaults.
Wellington Rape Crisis agency manager Eleanor Butterworth said more victims were seeking help because the stigma around sexual violence was increasingly being broken down. She said this change would require greater resourcing for sexual violence services.
"That means long-term plans, not pilots, it means multi-year funding contracts, it means services directed at hard-to-reach and marginalised communities and it means getting your head around the fact that one in four women and one in eight men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and that many of those people will want to access specialist services at some point in their lives."
The most common complaint to the inquiry was the absence of secure, long-term funding for frontline services. Funding was usually distributed in one- or two-year contracts, which gave providers little certainty for treating clients who required years of rehabilitation.
Only $77,000 of Wellington Rape Crisis' $300,000 to $330,000 budget was guaranteed, non-contestable funding. It was temporarily forced to reduce its service from five to four days a week last year because of a lack of funding - a shortfall which prompted Green MP Jan Logie to seek the inquiry. At present, the rape crisis agency is running on a $100,000 deficit and will cut services again if it cannot secure more funding.
MPs also heard about geographical gaps in the system. Specialist services are mostly limited to the main cities and some centres have no services at all. Some rural clients have to travel long distances for treatment.
ACC is doubling its budget for sensitive claims (sexual abuse or rape cases) at the end of this year. But the Government still requires specialist support to meet the complex needs of rape victims or their perpetrators.
Intersex Trust Aotearoa executive director Mani Mitchell said that despite the high proportion of abuse among transgender or intersex people, there was no specialised service for these groups. Submitters also told the inquiry that funding was skewed towards victims and the care and protection of children.
Cuts by the Ministry of Social Development in tight fiscal times meant adult sex offenders who abused other adults could not get treatment unless they were in the criminal justice system. This was significant because sexual offending was largely a hidden crime - just one in 100 offenders went to prison. Many people knew their abusers and did not want to charge them. But unless they were charged, their recovery was not state-subsidised.
Ms Ayland said many abusers voluntarily sought treatment if it was available.
MPs heard that CYF had some blind spots. In one case, six boys had seriously assaulted another boy at a secondary school. But CYF did not intervene if a young person was a threat to his or her peers.
When the hearings are completed, the select committee will make recommendations to Government for improvements to the system.
Paediatric Society head Dawn Elder said she hoped any reforms would bring care for sexual abuse victims into line with the rest of New Zealand's health system.
"It seems odd to me that you can have renal failure and you get dialysis, you can have cancer and you get paid for your cancer treatment. [But] you can have a really crappy childhood and have severe mental problems and some sexual offending problems and you struggle to get services. I don't understand it."
© 2014 APN New Zealand Ltd


15 March 2014

Respect key to tackling sexual violence early

A press release from the New Zealand Government
ACC Minister Judith Collins has today announced a new school-based pilot project funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) as part of its new focus on preventing sexual violence.
“Sexual violence has a significant effect on victims and families, resulting in substantial physical and mental health issues as well as social problems like poverty, addiction and suicide,” Ms Collins says.
“Encouraging a culture of respect is one of the most effective ways we can help to prevent sexual and dating violence. This pilot programme will teach young people the value of having healthy relationships based on respect, negotiation and consent.”
Recently ACC has made sexual violence prevention part of its core business focus and its first initiative in this area is a school-based pilot programme focussed on fostering healthy and respectful relationships.
In 2012/13, ACC spent $44 million on services for about 15,000 sensitive claims – the majority of which are related to sexual violence.
“There is some great work already being done by the sexual violence sector in schools but there is also recognition that we need to ensure these programmes have better national coordination, are consistent in content and ensure the best coverage possible,” Ms Collins says.
The school based programme is being developed with an Advisory Group made up of sexual violence sector representatives, interested community groups, government agencies and specialist academics, with input from students, parents and teachers. The programme will be a part of a wider programme of work led by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.
The programme is still in its early stages of development and there will be further announcements on the specific content, providers, and schools that will be piloted in the third school term this year.

22 December 2013

Redesigning the Sensitive Claims Service

An extract from a webpage by ACC
This page provides an overview of the information available about ACC’s redesign of our sensitive claims service. Work is well underway and the new service is due to go live in late 2014.

These pages are for current and prospective providers of sensitive claims services. This includes counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

If you’re an existing sensitive claims client, you won’t see any change in your current service and don’t need to do anything differently.

For information on the current service visit our sensitive claims section under Making a Claim.
Click here to read more.