30 September 2012

Privacy breach victims to sue ACC

An article from the Sunday Star Times by David Gadd and Marika Hill
Sex abuse survivors are planning to sue ACC to force a significantly boosted payout for breaching their privacy in the ongoing Bronwyn Pullar whistleblower saga.
ACC sent apology letters in June to sensitive-claims clients and offered to pay them $250 if they agreed to stay silent, after one of New Zealand's biggest privacy breaches in August last year. The "insulting" offer came after ACC mistakenly released the names and details of 6500 claimants, including 250 sensitive-claims clients who are victims of sexual abuse and violent crimes, to claimant Pullar.
Wellington lawyer John Miller, a specialist in taking on ACC, said more than 100 claimants affected by the massive Pullar breach had approached him to take the case. He said those wanting to pursue ACC were sensitive claimants who generally had long simmering feelings of being poorly treated by the ACC system. Although a claimant with a normal injury could shrug off the privacy breach, for sensitive claimants "this is the last straw".
"It's a corrosive environment they are in with ACC, frankly. The people I have spoken to, they are insulted by $250, it is a derisory amount for the torment they have gone through."
Worse was ACC's requirement that claimants sign a confidentially agreement if they took the payment. "They feel they are being told ‘now go away and shut up and sign a document to say you are going to shut up forever more'."
He said that although technically class action claims were not possible in New Zealand, the process worked with one claim taken and if it won it set a precedent. ACC would be asked to settle with everyone, or face losing case after case with legal costs compounding the settlement payouts. He said the process had worked before and usually ACC saw sense.
Miller would not be drawn on what level of compensation would satisfy claimants, but said past privacy breaches had won payouts of anything from $2000 to $40,000. It depended on the severity of the consequences. In 2003 he said ACC paid $8000 for sending a man's earnings details to his wife, resulting in divorce because he had kept his income secret from her.
The Dominion Post revealed in July that ACC paid out almost $50,000 for eight privacy breaches in the past three years.
However, the government agency refused to divulge the amount of each payment.
Following an investigation in the Pullar blunder, the privacy commissioner found that systemic weaknesses at ACC and an "almost cavalier" attitude towards claimants' information led to the breach. The privacy breach led to ACC introducing strict privacy policies and saw an exodus of top staff.
ACC chairman John Judge, chief executive Ralph Stewart and board members John McCliskie, Rob Campbell and Murray Hilder all departed from the agency.
ACC has so far refused to comment publicly on the financial settlement payments.
© 2012 Fairfax NZ News


29 September 2012

ACC claimants plan legal bid for more compensation

A news report from One News
ACC claimants who have had their private details exposed in a major privacy breach are launching legal action to claim more compensation.
Nearly 7000 clients have been offered less than a few hundred dollars in compensation after their personal details were accidentally emailed to former National Party figure Bronwyn Pullar.
However, the mother of a 12-year-old client involved in the privacy leak claims that figure is not enough.
The mother, whose identity cannot be revealed because her daughter is a sexual abuse victim, claims ACC's $250 compensation offer is insulting.
"I want her to see that those that have done wrong are going to front up and treat it with the appropriate, the appropriate response and not just be fobbed off with a bit of pocket money."
Her daughter is one of 200 sensitive claimants offered $250. Two months since the offer was made, only 84 have claimed the money.
She, along with other ACC claimants, is planning to pursue ACC for a payment worth thousands of dollars
"If you're just one person then $250 is a lot of effort to go to the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Tribunal, but if there's a group then you know it makes more sense to go and we'll probably take some group action," said lawyer John Miller.
So far ACC have paid out $21,000 in compensation to privacy leak victims in exchange for their silence.
"There may be people in ACC right now who're saying 'well most people haven't taken up this offer, that's a bit of a win for us' - well actually hold the phone," Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague.
ACC refused requests for an interview, saying they are bound by a confidentiality clause in the compensation agreement.
© 2012 Television New Zealand Ltd


19 September 2012

ACC backs down on privacy initiative

An article from the New Zealand Herald by Adam Bennett
The ACC has partially backed down on a new privacy initiative adopted in the wake of the Bronwyn Pullar affair but which was criticised as costly and inconvenient for clients.
However the corporation has only relaxed the new rules intended to protect privacy for sensitive claimants - those who have suffered rape or sexual abuse, whose privacy is supposed to be a priority for the corporation.
The recent review of ACC's privacy practices was launched following the Bronwyn Pullar privacy breach and prompted a new policy where claimants were required to collect sensitive documents from ACC offices rather than having them couriered to them.
But claimants such as Napier woman Jacqui Scott said the new policy meant it was now costly to access information held by ACC about her.
"For me, I'm disabled, and live in Napier. It means I have to pay for a taxi over to the Hastings office every time I request documents and need to collect them" she told Hawkes Bay Today recently.
"I'm looking at about $40 to $50 each way, and it could end up costing me about $100 every time."
Clients can choose to receive the information in the form of an encrypted CD couriered to them but that has also been criticised as expensive for those who want hard copies or impractical for those lacking computer skills.
ACC told Hawkes Bay Today the policy was "not a cost-cutting exercise, but a proactive step we've taken to improve the security and protection of client information".
"These changes have been introduced with our clients' best interests in mind, because they reduce the risk of a client's hard copy file ending up in the wrong hands."
But just a few weeks after the new policy was introduced, the Herald this week obtained a recent letter from an ACC manager to a sensitive claimant in which the manager says corporation's Sensitive Claims Unit had sought "further advice from senior management".
"It has been confirmed that ACC are now able to send copy files for sensitive claim clients only, directly to their home address."
A sensitive ACC claimant who did not wish to be named said the new privacy policy and partial back down was "another example of ACC being consistently inconsistent".
"They are making kneejerk reactions without even considering one iota of what claimants require or request or need."
The claimant said the policy requiring claimants collect documents didn't take into account the needs of clients.
"For myself it's a 180km round trip."
The claimant said ACC "should be asking each client which is their preferred method of delivery, simple end of story".
A spokeswoman for ACC said the corporation had opted to continue couriering files to sensitive claims clients, "with special measures taken in the couriering".
That included a stringent "track and trace" process and courier follow up.
ACC would also only courier to a verified client's home address, she said.
© Copyright 2012, APN Holdings NZ Limited


18 September 2012

ACC's suicide snub adds to family pain

An article from the Dominion Post by Marty Sharpe
The number of families of suicide victims granted support from ACC has declined since changes to legislation in 2010.
A woman whose daughter took her own life after suffering an abusive relationship said the changes meant surviving family were not considered victims.
The woman said her 21-year-old daughter took her life in Christchurch in November 2010. She left behind a young son.
The woman, now a sickness beneficiary and living in Wellington, had been struggling to pay the $7000 for her daughter's funeral.
She sought help from ACC but was told the corporation no longer provided cover for families of suicide victims, unless the suicide was due to a mental injury caused by physical injury, sexual abuse or a work-related mental injury.
"I've got it [the funeral bill] down to about $4500 . . . It's just been devastating. It really has. I don't think people know what it's like. Anyone in that situation needs all the help they can get," the woman said.
Figures provided by ACC under the Official Information Act show the number of suicide claims accepted by the corporation dropped from 347 in the 2009-10 year to 127 in 2010-11 and just 51 in the 2011-12 year. The average number of suicides over the past five years was 543.
Between July 2008 and July 2012 the corporation paid $19.8 million to families of suicide victims. This was paid in weekly compensation, childcare, survivor grants and funeral grants.
Labour changed the law in 2008 to class all suicides as accidents.
When former ACC minister Nick Smith changed the law two years ago, he said suicide was not an accident and should be considered a health issue similar to heart disease or cancer. The original act in 1972 excluded suicide, he said.
One of the country's top lawyers specialising in ACC legislation, John Miller, was not surprised at the drop of claims.
"ACC will just knock them back and people will be in such a state they won't often fight it.
"The problem is these people leave dependants. Just because a husband or partner can't cope with bankruptcy or something like that, is it right that they leave the family bereft of income?"
Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little said anyone who took their life had clearly lost perspective and was incapable of understanding the consequences of their action.
"No family asks for a family member to commit suicide and it can leave them in a very difficult situation. At a time when ACC has made a surplus of over $3 billion, it's not as if this is an area they cannot afford to cover.
"We will review this when back in office," he said.
ACC Minister Judith Collins said the objective of Mr Smith's reform was "to ensure ACC is affordable, sustainable and fair for claimants and levy payers".
"My priorities for ACC are to ensure entitlements are delivered transparently and fairly to those who need them," she said.

In 2001 the Labour government introduced changes to the Accident Compensation Corporation Act that meant entitlements were paid to families of victims whose suicide was the result of mental illness (ie not necessarily a mental injury). In 2008 this was extended to cover all suicides.
This meant families of suicide victims could receive a funeral grant, a survivor's grant of around $5000, funding for counselling and a share of income-related compensation for dependants.
Two years later National's ACC Minister Nick Smith changed the law, so families of suicide victims only received entitlements if ACC established the person who committed suicide was not able to appreciate the consequences of their action, or that a previously covered mental injury caused, or contributed to, the suicide.
© 2012 Fairfax NZ News


13 September 2012

ACC specialists fees reveal huge doubts about independence

A press release from the Green Party by Kevin Hague
Evidence that ACC is paying some medical specialists up to half a million dollars a year, an average of up to $1666 each client, reveals huge doubts about the independence of some of the corporation’s favourite doctors, the Green Party said today.
“I have documents showing ACC paid some of its top specialists up to $500,000 a year for between 300 and 500 clients,” Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague said.
“The enormous volume of work and the huge fees paid to these specialists suggest they have been well and truly wrapped up in ACC’s processes for delivering its goal to ‘target the low hanging fruit’ – the people with long term injuries.
“It would be totally unacceptable if the corporation was using doctors it can rely on to deliver assessments that meet that target.
“ACC has a well-established and clear goal of exiting people from the scheme and it is crucial that medical assessments are seen to be truly independent.
“It seems little has changed since Judge Trapski’s damning 1994 report that found, in the case of one favoured ACC specialist, that he’d been used over the years as ACC’s “hit man.”
“Trapski warned then that ACC’s medical assessors need to not only function as independent specialists but must be seen to be independent.
“Favouring a select group of specialists whose medical opinions appear to favour ACC’s agenda is not being seen to be independent.
“The huge fees paid to these assessors, combined with the extremely high rate that ACC’s decisions on long term claimants are overturned at review, reveals real concerns about the fairness of their decisions.
“The ACC Minister must urgently enquire into the appointment of these specialists, and instruct her new board to devise a way to appoint truly independent assessors.
“In answer to my questions in the House today the Minister seems to share our concerns and be determined to actually achieve independent assessments.
“An option would be to bulk fund DHBs to provide a rolling roster of specialists to provide ACC assessments in their region, or contract with professional colleges to ensure the assessments are independent,” Mr Hague said.
Data received through OIA on the payments made and workloads of ACC assessors: http://www.greens.org.nz/misc-documents/data-received-through-oia-payments-made-and-workloads-acc-assessors

Question to Minister

Question 4: Kevin Hague to the Minister for ACC: Does she agree with Peter Trapski's recommendation in his 1994 Report of that "the Corporation must ensure that the opinions it obtains from medical practitioners are independent, not only of the claimant, but also of the Corporation, and that they are seen to be so"?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): Yes.
Kevin Hague: Is she concerned that just four of ACC’s favourite specialist medical advisers— Dr Martin C Robb, Dr Vic du Plessis, Dr Bill Turner, and Dr David Beaumont—are collectively paid up to $2 million a year from ACC for services rendered?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I believe that the member is referring to a TV3 report on Sunday evening—oh, no, he is not. When it comes to saying that people are paid up to an amount, it is not particularly helpful, because it is anything under that amount. But I have been advised by ACC that for medical case reviews, it has 338 doctors who can carry out those assessments, for initial medical assessments the number is 97, for vocational initial medical assessments it is 62, and for impairment assessments it has got 59, and that, on average, the four particular doctors who were discussed on the 60 Minutes programme, whom I thought he was referring to, actually conduct between 8.7 and 4.7 percent of those particular reviews. So I hope that is helpful to the member.
Kevin Hague: Does she believe that an ordinary person would consider it possible that medical advisers like Dr du Plessis, Dr Turner, Dr Beaumont, and Dr Robb could remain independent of ACC, when it pays them between $300,000 and $500,000 each per year?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I think that that is an issue that needs to be considered, and I have spoken to ACC about it. The member will be aware that there is a new board now put in place. I will be meeting with the board and discussing—obviously not the individual cases or the matters— how we can end up with a system that, obviously, achieves good, robust, and independent medical reports and assessments, and that can be seen as independent by both the claimants or clients of ACC and ACC. I also note that even back in the year 2000—12 years ago—the same lawyers for ACC clients were claiming exactly the same issues around what they said were non-independent medical assessments. So I do not think much has changed, but I am happy to work with the member to try to get things to change.
Kevin Hague: Does she agree that an ordinary person would find it unbelievable that ACC would continue to fly these doctors around the country and pay them an average of almost $1,700 for each client they see if they were not acting as “hit men”, to use the phrase that Laurie Gluckman was described as according to Judge Trapski, in targeting the exit of long-term claimants, which ACC has referred to as low-hanging fruit?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I think it is absolutely right that people who are not highly trained skilled medical professionals, just like people who are not highly trained, very skilled legal professionals, find the fees that are charged outrageous, but that is actually something that I think most people in New Zealand would say around this area. I do not know for certain and I cannot tell the House that the medical professionals he is referring to are paid any differently from any other medical professionals—
Hon Ruth Dyson: So that makes it all right.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: —with that degree of expertise, and I am surprised that the former Minister for ACC, who left the job so abruptly, should want to call out about this issue.
Kevin Hague: Does she accept that there is a risk that the assessments performed by a doctor who earns up to half a million dollars a year working part-time for ACC could be affected by that doctor’s desire to continue receiving such lucrative contracts from the corporation?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I think that there is always that perception. Whether the perception is reality is a different matter, because as I understand it, these very highly trained, experienced medical professionals are in great demand all over the world. What we do know is that in a country the size of New Zealand, which, of course, has a fabulous health system, thanks in good part to this Government, it is thanks also to the level of qualifications and experience and the work attitude of many of the medical professionals he is referring to.
Kevin Hague: Does she agree that contracting for specialist medical assessments with district health boards or professional colleges would help ensure that they are independent and are seen to be so, as Judge Trapski says they must be?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I think the member has raised a very good point, and he has privately raised that matter with me. It is certainly one that I have raised with ACC, and now that the new board is in place I wish to take that matter further and see whether or not that is a realistic situation that we should consider.
Kevin Hague: What are the instructions she has given the reconstituted ACC board about specialist medical assessments?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have not yet met with the board. It has only been in place a few days, but I will be attending the first board meeting to discuss some of these issues with the board members and ask them whether they can start considering these matters. I have, however, met with the chief executive, raised those issues, and asked for some suggestions. I think it is a very important issue that the member has raised.
Barbara Stewart: Will ACC cap the annual amount it spends on any individual medical assessor to avoid the risk of incentivising advisers to provide reports that ACC wants rather than independent advice?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am not sure that that would be a good idea, particularly if, for instance, there may be only two or three specialists with the level of expertise in the country. So I think that might be a bit of a blunt instrument, but I can undertake to look at all those considerations.


10 September 2012

ACC assessments also key for sensitive claimants

A press release from the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists by Kyle MacDonald
Last night’s shocking expose on TV3’s 60 minutes showed how even “insiders” from ACC admit that a deliberate process of using medical assessors favourable to ACC has lead to a clear and dramatic increase in the “exit” of long term claimants from the ACC’s books.
This approach also continues to detrimentally affect survivors of sexual abuse and violence, or “sensitive claimants” says psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald.
“What was not widely reported with the release of the recent monitoring report of the Independent Clinical Review of the Sensitive Claims treatment pathway was how the ACC’s independent assessors are also preventing New Zealander’s accessing counselling.”
To access ongoing counselling, beyond sixteen support sessions, the client must have a cover determination report, or an external psychological assessment. This is usually conducted by an ACC appointed and contracted assessor.
“What is shocking is to me is that the report details that less than 4% of claims have been accepted based on these assessors reports, in 2011 and 2012. This is down from roughly 60% in 2008.” says MacDonald. “I believe this is further evidence of the cynical management detailed by 60 minutes. The idea that only 4 out of every hundred clients require more than four months of counselling to recover from sexual abuse and trauma makes no clinical sense.”
“It’s also clear that from the clinicians and clients I talk to that all the problems outlined with 'hatchet' assessors, outlined in last nights report also apply to long term Sensitive Claimants and the ACC’s psychological and psychiatric assessments.”
The “Monitoring Report on the Recommendations from the Independent Panel’s Review of the ACC’s Sensitive Claims Treatment Pathway: 18 months follow up” was released on the 17th of July, 2012. The quoted statistics can be found on p. 29.

Independent medical assessments must be a top priority

A press release from the Green Party by Kevin Hague
The newly constituted ACC Board needs to demonstrate its commitment to culture change in the organisation by immediately changing the way it commissions the services of specialist medical assessors, Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague said today.
Melanie Read's 60 Minutes story, which screened earlier this evening, has revealed to the public what ACC advocates, long term claimants, and the Green Party have known for some time: that ACC is selectively contracting favoured medical assessors who deliver the assessments that ACC needs to end the entitlements of long-term claimants.
"There is no doubt that ACC has a standard practice of using specialist medical assessors who are likely to make an assessment favourable to ACC,” said Mr Hague.
“The many claimants' stories I have on file show, in particular, it is common for ACC medical assessors to have views which are unusual in their specialty, and who are willing to offer opinions outside of their recognized scope of practice.
“Dr Du Plessis, who was interviewed in Melanie Reid's story is far from unique.
“This is not a new problem. The review of ACC claims management undertaken by Judge Trapski in the wake of the scandal in which Dr. Laurie Gluckman was used by ACC to give opinions in ACC's favour, recommended in 1994 that specialist medical assessments should be genuinely independent of both the claimants and ACC itself.
"It is scandalous that ACC is still engaging in these unethical practices. It is yet another illustration of the sick culture of disentitlement that has taken hold of the organisation,” said Mr Hague.
“It will be an important test of the Minister and the new Board whether urgent action is now taken to introduce truly independent assessments.
"The Green Party has suggested several ways of doing this to the Minister. One is to engage with the specialists' professional colleges to have them appoint medical assessors. Another is simply to extend the contracts ACC already has with District Health Boards so that DHB specialists make the assessments,” said Mr Hague.
Mr Hague has also raised with the Minister ACC's intention to now exercise greater control of the clinical "gateway" into the scheme.
"ACC is now extending the methods they have used to 'exit' long term claimants to the processes by which accident victims are referred into the scheme by general practitioners. The Minister has indicated that our grave concern about these practices will be considered by the new Board. This can't come soon enough,” said Mr Hague.

08 September 2012

ACC pays millions to send its 'hatchets'

An article from the Dominion Post by Phil Kitchin
ACC is spending millions of dollars flying doctors around New Zealand to assess long-term clients who have already been assessed by other doctors.
The policy has been slammed by John Miller - one of the country's top lawyers specialising in ACC legislation - who said the so-called “independence” of some assessors was a sham.
ACC lawyers, advocates and claimant groups know those doctors as “hatchet men and women”, Mr Miller said.
“They are not independent, as a substantial part of their income comes from ACC,” he said.
ACC figures reveal the corporation pays millions of dollars a year to a group of “independent assessors”, often flying them to towns or cities where other doctors with suitable qualifications already practise. In some cases the ACC assessors are flown from the South Island to North Island cities.
At least $3 million was spent last year on airfares and assessment fees for a group of less than 12 doctors.
Mr Miller said medical professionals had expressed serious concerns to him about the issue. Because some assessors earned virtually all their income from ACC it was “inevitable” they would tend to “provide reports ACC wants".
“The old saying of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune' definitely applies with ACC assessors. The use of such assessors actually damages and diminishes ACC's reputation,” Mr Miller said. “ACC knows the assessors who have particular fixed medical views, for example on degeneration . . . and they keep sending injured claimants to be assessed by those assessors as they know they will receive reports they want.”
Mr Miller said ACC advocates know when clients are sent for assessments by “the same usual suspects ... there will be an adverse outcome for the injured claimant”.
ACC has seen a drop in the number of cases it is winning as claimants fight assessments. The corporation won 77 per cent of cases challenged by clients in 2009 but in the year to date that figure has dropped to 56 per cent.
Mr Miller said his firm had experienced cases where independent assessors such as occupational therapists for seriously injured clients refused to provide reports “for us in ACC disputes".
“They fear that it will affect their livelihood from ACC contracts,” he said.
“It confirms in people's minds it is an organisation more concerned with removing claimants from ACC assistance this way rather than being concerned with properly rehabilitating injured claimants off the scheme.”
Mr Miller said the solution would be for ACC to start using a group of trusted assessors who could “be used by both sides."
ACC's claims management acting general manager Phil Riley said ACC chose appropriate providers, but if clients did not want to see them because of genuine concerns, a choice of two alternative providers was offered. If clients chose not to see a local assessor, ACC could arrange for a specialist from another area to travel to their location.
"For practicality purposes, we try to send specialists to other areas when there are a number of clients to see in that area. This is why ACC flies specialist medical professionals to other regions, to hold ‘day clinics' for ACC clients."
ACC paid specialists at market rates, Mr Riley said.
ACC Minister Judith Collins said changes she made to ACC's board include new priorities for the corporation to ensure entitlements were delivered transparently. She said ACC must follow a fair process for assessments and provide best practice and lawful services to preserve public trust.
However ACC would not be a soft touch for people trying to take advantage of it, Ms Collins said.
© 2012 Fairfax NZ News


07 September 2012

ACC culture must be more fair and open

An editorial from the New Zealand Herald
The need for a culture change at the Accident Compensation Corporation has prompted the departure of the chairman, two board members, the chief executive and several officials. With the decks cleared, much of the responsibility for turning the ship around will lie with the board appointees announced by the ACC Minister, Judith Collins, this week. Unsurprisingly, the interim chairwoman, Paula Rebstock, will reprise her fix-it role at the table's head for the next three years. Other new appointments see Trevor Janes in the deputy chairman's chair and Professor Des Gorman and Kirsty McDonald, QC, on the board.
Ms Collins says these choices "underline the Government's commitment to genuine culture change, and will lead to a more balanced and comprehensive approach to the governance and operation of ACC". It is on that basis that the appointments will be scrutinised. Labour's ACC spokesman, Andrew Little, was quick to talk of "a sharp lurch to the right" and to zero in on Professor Gorman. The professor, head of the Auckland School of Medicine, had, he said, been a senior medical adviser to the ACC for many years, and "given some of the most retrograde advice on claimants' files I've known".
He said the professor had been the subject of many complaints over his advice about occupational overuse syndrome in the 1990s.
That raises questions about the precise nature of the culture that will be implanted at the ACC. The first priority, in the wake of the privacy breach which saw details of 6700 ACC claimants emailed to Bronwyn Pullar, is no longer said to be cost containment. Rather, it is trust and confidence. But the criticism of Professor Gorman over OOS advice has had a recent echo in the stricter enforcement of the ACC's policy of declining to pay for surgery for "pre-existing conditions". To save money, the ACC seized on age-related degeneration of claimants' bodies to unjustifiably reject their claims for surgery after an injury.
On appeal, too many rejections of such claims were reversed. Understandably, this led to accusations that the ACC was too hard-nosed. The corporation, after an internal review, conceded as much, yet comments this year by the previous chairman, John Judge, suggested nothing much had changed. The ACC was still not getting the balance right in its decision-making.
An early task for Ms Rebstock must, therefore, be to respond to the criticism of Professor Gorman's appointment and to spell out exactly what it signifies. When the stricter policy for pre-existing conditions was introduced, there was no public notification of why it was necessary or how it would be applied. That lack of transparency is not sustainable. More broadly, the new culture must include a clear explanation of exactly where the ACC is headed under the new board.
The corporation should be involving claimants' surgeons more in its decision-making and applying extra expertise where necessary. It should also be explaining the reasons for its decisions more clearly to people. The "almost cavalier" attitude identified by official inquiries into the Pullar case cannot continue. But the changes to the way the ACC approaches its job, notably in keeping costs under control, should be kept in proportion. There can, for example, be no question of unworthy claims for surgery being approved with few questions asked.
The lessons of the Pullar case are that the ACC must be more sensitive, fair and open in its dealings with people. That culture change will not have to be as drastic as that needed at the top level to achieve it.
© 2012 APN Holdings NZ Ltd


06 September 2012

Not cute

A blog post from Off the Couch by Kyle MacDonald
I think that politics and psychotherapy are worlds apart, and largely in the different ways they approach the truth. Psychotherapy is largely the search for the truth along with understanding and validating one persons experience of it.
Politics these days seems to be largely about the manipulation of the truth, to most closely match whatever agenda is being pushed. In some ways I can live with that, it’s what I expect from politicians and a healthy news media can assist us to dive into the debate and decide who and what we want to believe. But it’s much harder to take from a public organization charged with the care and treatment of all New Zealanders.
Both of the recent reports into the ACC by the Auditor General and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner  point to “culture problems” within the ACC.  (See: “Dual investigations shows culture problems at the ACC“). In my view this starts to get us to the heart of the problems that have plagued the Sensitive Claims Unit for a number of years. I believe the culture problem that exists within the ACC’s Senior Management is an ongoing pattern of cynical manipulation of the truth for financial and political gain. And sometimes blatant self-preservation...
Click here to read the rest of this post.


05 September 2012

ACC caught providing misleading answers again

An article from the Dominion Post by Phil Kitchin
ACC has admitted providing misleading answers to questions about its spending of $450,000 on spin doctors since a mass privacy breach was revealed in March.
Initially, the corporation told The Dominion Post it had not employed any consultant public relations staff since the breach, but had an agreement with consultants Acumen Republic dating back to 2009. It said it had paid Acumen $121,000 since July last year but, when more questions were asked, ACC said it “should have said” Acumen had actually lost its contract in an open tender last year.
A spokeswoman apologised for “any confusion”. Acumen had in fact been brought in and paid $103,000 since March for media and “issues management” advice.
ACC also confirmed it had paid another PR firm, Senate SJH, $347,000 for media and recruitment advice since March.
It is the second time this year that ACC has been caught providing misleading answers to questions from Fairfax reporters. In April, general manager of claims management Denise Cosgrove admitted providing what she said were “cute” answers on the corporation gagging its vocational rehabilitation providers from criticising its new service.
She initially said there were no gagging clauses in its contracts with those providers, but later admitted there were four such clauses in other documents that providers had to sign.
She said her first answer, though technically correct, was “cute".
© 2012 Fairfax NZ News


04 September 2012

Rebstock’s appointment highlights opportunity for ACC

A press release from the Green Party
The appointment of Paula Rebstock as permanent chair of ACC is an opportunity to steer the corporation back towards the role and principles it was founded on, the Green party said today.
Ms Rebstock has been interim chair of ACC since John Judge stood down and today was appointed chairperson.
“Ms Rebstock has a huge responsibility to turn the ACC ship around,” Green Party ACC spokesperson Kevin Hague said today.
“Recent reports into ACC by the Auditor General and the Privacy Commissioner have called for major top-level change at the corporation.
“New Zealanders will expect a very different performance and attitude from ACC than they saw when Ms Rebstock was a board member under John Judge and the previous ACC minister Nick Smith.
“Her dual roles in both ACC and Work and Income will require her to be particularly conscious that it is not acceptable to exit people from ACC only to have them end up on WINZ benefits.
“Ordinary New Zealanders don’t like the profit-driven, privacy-abandoning organisation that ACC has become and want it to return to the principals it was founded on.
“It’s pretty basic really. Kiwis gave up the right to sue for a no-fault system that guaranteed them proper compensation and rehabilitation when they were hurt and injured. Its about giving injured New Zealanders the chance of a good life and a fair future.
“Ms Rebstock has a huge job to lead the top-level change that’s needed to make that happen,” Mr Hague said.

Evidence mounts against muddled ACC

An editorial from the Dominion Post
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to breach the privacy of one's clients once may be regarded as a misfortune; to do so twice looks like carelessness.
Except when the clients involved are accident victims who have entrusted sensitive personal information to the state accident insurer, ACC. Then the breaches look less like misfortune and carelessness and more like gross negligence.
The latest breach, revealed in yesterday's Dominion Post, shows the agency has learnt nothing from the earlier privacy breach, also revealed by The Dominion Post, that contributed to former ACC minister Nick Smith resigning and former ACC chairman John Judge and two other ACC board members not having their terms extended.
Then an ACC manager mistakenly attached a spreadsheet containing information about almost 7000 ACC clients to an email sent to Auckland client Bronwyn Pullar. Informed of the breach, ACC wrote to Ms Pullar, asking for the return of the material but, despite not receiving it, took no further action till the breach was made public four months later.
The most recent breach occurred a few weeks after the Pullar breach became public. The circumstances are disturbingly similar. They betray a cavalier disregard for client privacy, slipshod systems and a reluctance on the part of the corporation to admit to making mistakes.
On March 29, ACC mistakenly sent a bundle of documents relating to an elderly Auckland client, Diane Hawke, to another claimant. The recipient did not notice the extraneous material till July when she went through the information sent to her by ACC, but when she did she emailed and called ACC several times. Despite that, Mrs Hawke did not learn of the breach till she spoke, six weeks later, to the woman mistakenly sent the information about her.
The corporation also failed to inform ACC Minister Judith Collins of what she has called a ''totally unacceptable'' mistake - a clear breach of the ''no-surprises'' policy insisted upon by ministers.
The picture that emerges is of an organisation in disarray and more concerned with maintaining the fiction that it knows what it is doing.
Less than two weeks ago, a damning independent report on the Pullar breach highlighted systemic inadequacies within ACC that increased the likelihood of privacy breaches, variable attitudes towards client personal information and a lack of accountability for addressing privacy issues.
The latest breach shows nothing has changed.
The public expect ACC to test the veracity of claims made by clients and to do all that can reasonably be done to rehabilitate them. However, they also expect claimants to be treated with dignity and respect and ACC staff to handle sensitive client information with care, not scatter it about cyberspace like confetti.
If mistakes are made they should be acknowledged, not ignored.
Ms Collins has her work cut out.
© 2012 Fairfax NZ News


03 September 2012

Minister fumes as ACC fails yet again

An article from the Dominion Post by Shane Cowlishaw
ACC'S privacy practices have again been exposed after it sent information about an elderly client to the wrong person, and then took six weeks to tell her about it.
The corporation also failed to inform ACC Minister Judith Collins about the breach. She was unaware of it until told on Friday by The Dominion Post.
Mrs Collins has weekly meetings with the organisation and has demanded a zero-tolerance approach to privacy violations. She said the latest breach was "totally unacceptable" and called for a full explanation from outgoing chief executive Ralph Stewart.
The information, which included details about Auckland resident Diane Hawke's injury, compensation and complaints about ACC, was sent to a client in the corporation's sensitive claims unit in a bundle of documents at the end of March - just weeks after the privacy breach involving whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar was revealed.
All correspondence with sensitive claims unit clients is supposed to go through more thorough security checks.
The mistake was not discovered until July, when the recipient, who has had her own privacy breached by ACC several times, finally found time to look at all the information she was sent. Incensed, she emailed and called ACC several times. She was shocked to discover six weeks later that Mrs Hawke had still not been told of the breach.
Both Mrs Hawke and the sensitive claims unit client were among the 7000 people whose details were inadvertently sent to Ms Pullar.
The fallout from Ms Pullar's revelations claimed the scalps of Cabinet minister Nick Smith, ACC chairman John Judge and several board members.
Last week a damning independent report into the breach vindicated Ms Pullar and highlighted a poor privacy culture at ACC.
The sensitive claimant said she was "mortified" at receiving Mrs Hawke's details, but her shock quickly turned to anger when she learnt how ACC had handled it.
"Look, I was just shattered that their strategy in the media is ‘We take it seriously'. This took them six weeks to get serious about. It's a bad, sick joke, and it's simply not good enough."
The breach raised several issues, including how historical information from a standard ACC claimant had been mixed up in current documents prepared for one handled by the sensitive claims unit, she said.
Mrs Hawke, who has been sent another person's details in the past, said she was angry to learn about the delay in informing her. "I thought ... here we go again, because I have no confidence in their privacy or anything else."
Ms Collins said Mr Stewart would report on how the breach happened and what was done to ensure it never happens again.
ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said the six-week delay was too long, and ACC apologised. An inquiry was under way and no decision had been made on possible compensation. The findings of the privacy commissioner's report had been accepted and all recommendations would be implemented in full, she said.

March 29: ACC sends the sensitive claimant a bundle of documents relating to her case.
July 11: Claimant, who regularly receives large volumes of documents from ACC, notices the March package contains nine pages of Diane Hawke's information, dated 2008.
July 11: Sensitive claimant emails her case manager over breach.
July 12, 16: Claimant rings ACC complaints office and customer support service manager Kerry Dow over breach.
July 18-22: She and Mr Dow exchange emails about breach and whether the documents have been destroyed.
August 15: After speaking to Mrs Hawke, sensitive claimant learns ACC has yet to tell her of the breach. She calls ACC again.
August 16: Mr Dow calls Mrs Hawke to tell her of the breach and emails sensitive claimant, informing her he has done so.

© 2012 Fairfax NZ News