Dunedin ACC campaigner Dr Denise Powell is urging the
country's medical system and ACC to improve their handling of
traumatic brain injuries after a major report warned they
were at "epidemic levels".
The report, published last week in The Lancet medical
journal, found New Zealanders suffered about 36,000 traumatic
brain injuries (TBIs) each year, and the extent of TBIs had
previously been "grossly underestimated".
The study noted such injuries were "the leading cause of
long-term disability in children and adults younger than 35"
and had "serious effects on the lives of patients, their
families and friends, and society".
TBIs result from falls, assaults, road accidents and other
Dr Powell, who is the president of Acclaim Otago, an ACC
claimant support group, said the report posed a "real
challenge" to ACC and the New Zealand health system.
The report found many TBIs were not recorded by medical staff
close to the time they occurred, partly because symptoms were
often subtle and could be overlooked, as medical staff
focused "on more obvious conditions, such as bleeding and
Dr Powell said ACC often declined claims for TBIs that were
made some time after the accident which caused them, because
there was no "contemporaneous evidence" that the claimant
suffered TBI at all.
ACC was declining these claims for want of "bureaucratic
paperwork" which it expected to have been compiled when
patients were admitted to the health system.
When claimants later tried to challenge these decisions,
through statutory reviews and appeals, they often failed, for
the same reason, as decision-makers "ignore the fact" that
characteristic TBI symptoms had been shown.
This resulted in the costs of personal injury being "shifted
on to the victims and their immediate families", which was a
"grossly unjust" outcome.
Labour's ACC spokesman, Andrew Little, is urging a "major
review" within ACC taking into account the implications of
the report and for "appropriate changes" to be made to ACC
programmes and approaches.
The report showed New Zealand had one of the largest
incidences of brain injury in the developed world, and that
such injuries often resulted in "significant and
long-standing" effects, including memory problems and
depression", he said.
Approached for comment, an ACC spokesman said ACC was
"working to improve the service" provided to patients with a
"For example, we're in the final stages of developing a TBI
strategy focusing on adults with moderate to severe TBIs,
aimed at providing a clearer direction for their treatment
and rehabilitation and ensuring the right systems and
services are in place to support this.
"We're also currently working to improve assistance for
adults and children with mild TBIs," the spokesman said.