‘I’m imprisoned in my own home’: Invercargill man's plea to ACC

Chris Booth has a rare employment-related condition, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. Photo: RNZ
Chris Booth has a rare employment-related condition, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. Photo: RNZ

An Invercargill man is accusing ACC of failing to help him manage a disabling disease he developed while working.

Chris Booth (53) can barely walk, struggles to use his hands, and feels his nerves deteriorating each day.

A motorcycle engineer for more than 30 years, he has the rarely-known and under-recognised Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome  - an occupational disease caused by the consistent use of hand vibration tools.

He said his condition was made worse by a lack of understanding from the Accident Compensation Corporation, and is demanding it reassess his care, including allowing more home help hours.

The symptoms first started to appear 12 years ago, when he was at work in a garage in Hawke's Bay.

"I went to work one morning and started doing my job, and about half way through the morning... my hands swelled up like a couple of boxing gloves, I couldn't move my wrists," he told Checkpoint.

Mr Booth originally made an ACC claim in 2007 for carpal tunnel syndrome after advice from a GP. That was denied, starting a long process of visiting specialists who struggled to reach a diagnosis.

A specialist in Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or HAVS, originally from Britain,  Dr David McBride, eventually diagnosed Mr Booth with the syndrome in 2010.

ACC accepted his claim for it that same year, and he had a second claim of deterioration accepted in 2016, after it went to review.

But his condition kept deteriorating. Now using a wheelchair, Mr Booth said he was in constant, agonising pain.

Mr Booth held ACC responsible for his deterioration, saying it tried to rehabilitate him in the same work environment that caused the disease, and had not done anything to prevent his condition from worsening.

He said ACC cut his home help hours in March 2017 when he moved from Christchurch to Invercargill, and he said his multiple appeals for a review have been ignored.

He now received two and a half hours of home help a day, but said he needed much more than that.

"I've not had an assessment done - an up-to-date assessment - in two-and-a-half years," he said.

ACC's chief operating officer, Mike Tully, said the organisation was not sure Mr Booth's deterioration was related to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome.

"The diagnosis for HAVS is clear, so we cover him for that," he told Checkpoint.

"But what's less clear is what's causing his recent decline, which involves the symptoms that are not typically associated with [HAVS]."

He said Mr Booth had also missed meeting with ACC specialists, and that had delayed help, but acknowledged the relationship between ACC and Mr Booth was not ideal.

"It's tough when there are relationship challenges... I understand the frustration that clearly he's going through... but we just have to try and get the right assessment to get the right pathway forward."

And Mr Tully also defended ACC's attempts to rehabilitate Mr Booth in his then working environment.

"He developed the HAVS in 2007, and he started his own motorcycle business after that... to which we were able to support him.

"He was medically cleared to run the business, but he wasn't to work as a mechanic."

On the issue of home help hours, Mr Tully said a home help assessment made by a specialist when Mr Booth moved to Invercargill recommended only one hour per week, but ACC compromised with the current 15 and a half hours, which was recommended by his then GP.

Mr Tully said ACC planned for two specialists, including Dr McBride, to meet with Mr Booth in the next month or so to discuss his current condition and need for more home help.

He also said ACC did not know how many people have Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or how many claims it had accepted for the disease.

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