Ex-boss defends ACC rehabilitation policy

TRACY WATKINS AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 12:34 24/06/2012

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Departing ACC boss Ralph Stewart has mounted a rare public defence of the corporation as it faces more fire over a "sick culture".

Mr Stewart yesterday insisted ACC's purpose was "a noble" one and rejected suggestions staff were given incentives to kick people off the corporation's books before they were ready.

"The quality and care provided to clients comes first ... and the result of that quality of care and attention should and must be rehabilitation or the return of someone who's been injured back to their normal lives. That's what ACC is about."

In an at times tetchy interview on Radio New Zealand, Mr Stewart refused to say why he quit his job last week, just days after a boardroom purge by ACC Minister Judith Collins.

He said the reasons for leaving were "multiple" and personal.

But he insisted there was no dispute with Ms Collins over her demands for a "culture change" at ACC.

The minister wanted the right balance struck between rehabilitation and financial management and ACC wanted that too.

The number of long-term claimants has dropped under Mr Stewart – he confirmed yesterday there were just 10,400 long-term claimants on the books, 1000 fewer than even a few years ago.

But after revelations that ACC case managers get paid more to reduce the number of long-term claimants, Opposition MPs have accused ACC of booting people off weekly compensation solely to improve its bottom line.

Mr Stewart rejected that and insisted people were only moved off the books once their rehabilitation was complete.

"No-one can leave ACC unless they're rehabilitated first. There are two clear steps – rehabilitation step first, leaving the scheme second."

Only a portion of a case manager's pay was linked to targets in relation to the number of long-term claimants on ACC's books, he said.

He acknowledged, however, that recent events would impact on people's trust and confidence in ACC.

"Events over the last four or five months haven't been easy."

Green MP Kevin Hague rejected Mr Stewart's assurances that people were not being pushed into work before they were ready.

"If what he said was true, presumably most people would be in work. My very strong experience is that this is not the case."

Research suggested about a third of those whose ACC payments were cut actually went into work, which showed ACC was not bothered about whether people were rehabilitated or not, he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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