In 1994, an inquiry conducted by Judge Peter Trapski (PDF) was damning of ACC’s then case management practices with regard to referrals to assessors who were perceived to have a bias in favour of the Corporation’s declining cover and entitlements. In particular, Judge Trapski reported:
Corporation staff, I was told, had become fed up with clients who were seen to be “ripping off the system”. These people were therefore referred to a specialist who I was told, was unafraid of examining factors aside from the injury. I was told quite clearly that this was where Dr [Laurie] Gluckman’s usefulness lay, as he was a qualified physician, and a psychiatrist, and he had been used over a number of years as the Corporation’s “hit man”.
The NZ Herald today reports on orthopaedic surgeon Brian Otto who featured in an ACC appeal judgment from the District Court recently:
Liangfang Lu, 48, was awarded about $5000 after Auckland District Court Judge Martin Beattie found ACC wrongly suspended payments to him on the basis that his back pain was caused by degeneration.
The judge noted that the first two of orthopaedic surgeon Brian Otto’s three reports on Mr Lu had diagnosed degeneration without the surgeon seeing the relevant MRI scan.
“I find that Mr Otto has not correctly identified the state of affairs when he had the opportunity of examining the MRI scan [in his third report],” the judge said. “He has stuck to his tried and true assertion that degeneration is the cause.”
It appears Mr Otto has a bit of a reputation among ACC claimants. Go to the ACCforum site run by ACC claimants and search on “Brian Otto” and you’ll find plenty of commentary there on him, none of it complimentary. There are a number of other medical practitioners who appear to attract a disproportionate amount of unfavourable comment at ACCForum.
Green ACC Spokesperson Kevin Hague has consistently called for an inquiry into ACC’s claims management practices. This issue needs to be a part of it.
Here are a couple of suggestions. ACC should give claimants a choice of assessor within a particular medical specialty, rather than choose the assessor themselves. That would help dispel the perception that ACC are deliberately choosing assessors who are favourable to disentitling claimants. And fund some effective claimant advocacy, so there are expert advisors whom claimants can consult about which assessor to choose.