ACC Minister Nick Smith was conveniently absent for Parliament today when questions were raised by Green and Labour MPs about the proposed changed to ACC counselling for sexual abuse victims. So Associate Minister Pansy Wong was left to carry the can.
7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: How will the proposed changes to the treatment of sensitive claims meet the legal requirements of the ACC scheme to provide “for a fair and sustainable scheme for managing personal injury that has, as its overriding goals, minimising both the overall incidence of injury in the community, and the impact of injury on the community”?
Hon PANSY WONG (Acting Minister for ACC) : ACC’s proposed changes to the treatment guidelines for mental injury resulting from sexual abuse are based on a comprehensive 5-year programme of clinical research commissioned by the corporation. The Massey University school of psychology undertook this research with a team comprising 23 researchers and an advisory committee of 13 people. A multi-method approach was taken, utilising quantitative and qualitative analysis, literature reviews, questionnaires, and focus groups. The research team included specialists in survivor advocacy, psychology, counselling, education, migrant resettlement, indigenous issues, and the mental health of children and older people.
Well, that’s the only bit she got right. Pity, though, that she didn’t actually read the report from the Massey University School of Psychology.
Hon David Parker: Will the Minister release the medical and scientific evidence that the Minister has relied upon to conclude that the current clinical pathway for the treatment of victims of childhood sexual abuse is not satisfactory, and why were the professional bodies of the current treatment providers excluded from meaningful consultation?
Hon PANSY WONG: I am very pleased to table the report by Massey University commissioned by the corporation, Sexual Abuse and Mental Injury: Practice Guidelines for Aotearoa New Zealand. It was somehow totally forgotten and neglected by the previous Labour Government.
The Minister says nothing significant actually. The Massey University report (PDF 1.115 MB))was released in March 2008, and actually suggests increased flexibility because of the different victim responses of child v adult sexual abuse and the different victime responses of single instance of abuse to systematic abuse. It does not recommend restrictive regulation, as the Government is proposing – actually it would imply greater flexibility is required.
Sue Bradford: How does the Minister reconcile the proposal to impose an arbitrary cap on ACC funding for counselling for victims of sexual abuse with the statement by the Prime Minister in a recent speech to the Sensible Sentencing Trust that “where New Zealanders do become victims of crime, National will give them the support and respect they deserve.”?
Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, this is a new guideline. It has been proposed because it is not fair or right for victims to have one-size-fits-all treatment, so this proposed treatment takes into account tailored treatment for survivors whether they are women, men, children, adolescents, Māori, Pasifika, or ethnic.
But the proposed guidelines, unlike the former regime that relied on clinical judgment of the treatment provider, are a one-size fits all treatment regime, with a claimant being required to demonstrate exceptional circumstances – a very high test in law – to get extended counselling beyond the guideline norm.
Lynne Pillay: Can the Minister reassure childhood sexual abuse victims that the proposed ACC cuts will not detrimentally impact their quality of life; if so, how?
Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, all those have been taken into account because this Government is committed to improving the life of survivors and—
Hon Members: Rubbish!
Hon PANSY WONG: This is a very serious issue. The Opposition might feel agitated and not want to know the real reasons, but others might. According to this study, victims’ traumatic ordeals should be seen as a complex life experience and not as a disorder or life sentence. That is why the best-practice treatment is being implemented.
But best-practice treatment is not being implemented. This regime sets a limit of maximum 16 sessions of therapy, with “exceptional circumstaces being required to gain greater entitlement, That is not what the Massey University study recomended, other than for one-off instances of adult rape or sexual asault – see p.80 of report linked to above.
Sue Bradford: Why is the Government requiring victims of sexual abuse to see at least three different health professionals, and does the Minister think it is easy for victims to go over their traumatic experiences, over and over again, with strangers?
Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, the clinical research conducted by Massey University is not asking victims to relive their traumatic ordeals. This is tailor-made clinical treatment that takes into account each survivor’s personal circumstances.
The report isn’t, and the Associate Minister is correct in that regard. But she is obfuscating and lying. The Massey University report doesn’t recommend victims of sexual assault have to relate the experience to three different health professionals before cover and entitlements can begin. It is the proposed Government policy that does that.
UPDATE: There has been a partial backdown.
Dr Kevin Morris, said last night that the proposal would be modified in response to feedback before it comes into force on September 14.
“The provider/assessor split – we won’t be taking that because I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said.
“Individuals having to disclose to a number of different people – that has always been a problem in this area. We have no intention of trying to make it any worse than it is. We are quite keen to improve that.”
He said the agency also had no intention of removing a client’s right to choose their own therapist.
How embarrassing for the Associate Minister who denied only a few hours before that the original proposal would require disclosures to additional health professionals!