Denied ACC claimants urge Government to act

IAIN MCGREGOR/Stuff

Natasha Howell has spent years in pain, lost her job, her marriage, had two surgeries and is challenging ACC for not covering her injury.

A Christchurch woman denied ACC entitlements for a back injury five years ago is calling on the government to make the corporation accountable.

Natasha Howell says her life has been unbearable at times following a work place injury and two spinal fusion surgeries without ACC support. 

The 44-year-old mother of three relies on morphine and other strong opiates to dull the constant pain.

Natasha Howell's spinal fusion surgery failed but it took three years to get a second opinion which led to another procedure.
IAN MCGREGOR/SUFF

Natasha Howell's spinal fusion surgery failed but it took three years to get a second opinion which led to another procedure.

"I've lost my health, my job, my marriage and my home."

Howell said her "nightmare" started when she injured her back lifting a heavy, stone-filled planter at work in June 2012.

The pain increased over the following days and eventually was so acute it caused urinary retention requiring a catheter and hospital care on several occasions.

Natasha Howell, 44, is battling ACC after losing her entitlement for cover for a back injury. She has spent five years ...
IAN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Natasha Howell, 44, is battling ACC after losing her entitlement for cover for a back injury. She has spent five years in acute pain and been forced to quit her job.

Howell's doctors agreed X-ray and MRI scans showed minor degenerative changes in her lumbar spine, "but nothing that identified the severity of her symptoms", an ACC spokesman said.

Based on this ACC accepted the claim for a "lumbar sprain or strain".

She was granted weekly payments when she was no longer able to work but the entitlement stopped after four weeks.

Natasha Howell, 44, is battling ACC after losing her entitlement for cover for a back injury. She has spent five years ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Natasha Howell, 44, is battling ACC after losing her entitlement for cover for a back injury. She has spent five years in acute pain and been forced to quit her job.

An ACC spokesman said the payments stopped because Howell "did not respond to phone messages or a letter checking if she needed further support".

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She eventually had surgery to fuse her spine in October 2013 but this failed to reduce her pain.

The surgeon insisted the procedure had been successful despite her symptoms continuing. 

Natasha Howell says her life has been unbearable at times, following a workplace injury.
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Natasha Howell says her life has been unbearable at times, following a workplace injury.

By 2016, Howell was still in pain, her marriage had broken down and she was unable to work.

She was told she was not eligible for home support from ACC.

She applied for weekly compensation again but was declined.

An ACC medical adviser (a GP) said Howell's back injury was not caused by the 2012 accident.

Howell applied to have the ACC decision reviewed and a hearing was held last month. A final decision is due in late January.

With support from her GP, Howell paid for a second opinion from a neurosurgeon who confirmed the first procedure had failed.

Howell had a second revision surgery in February but has still been left with chronic pain.

A hospital registrar said she would probably have permanent nerve damage as a result of the procedures.

She has lodged a separate treatment injury claim for the failed first surgery and this was being considered by ACC.

Howell said the Government needed to act to restore people's trust in ACC.

"The Government needs to have more input in to what ACC is doing and the Minister needs to have more involvement with ACC so people get a fairer deal."

Howell is one of 50,000 claimants denied cover each year but long-term advocate for claimants and barrister Warren Forster said the real figure is much higher – with up to 300,000 turned away.

Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party called for sweeping changes to the ACC system during the election campaign to ensure greater transparency and fairness.

New Zealand First and the Green Party wanted an independent commissioner for personal injury established to provide independent oversight of the corporation. 

ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told Stuff he was happy with progress on reforms underway of the ACC.

He declined to say if the Government would consider an independent commissioner.

"There are a number of possibilities to ensure sufficient independent oversight. I will ask officials to explore options in the new year."

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) declined to comment on Howell's care.

 

 

 - Stuff

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