I have many fears for the next three years of government. It will come as no surprise that, selfishly, one of the biggest concerns for me is welfare reform.
The latest reforms, which were responsible for eliminating the sickness benefit as we knew it and merging it with the unemployment benefit as ‘Jobseeker Support’ have already had a significant impact on myself and many others. I am lucky enough to have a medical deferral against my file. To keep that, I have to provide a new medical certificate every three months to prove my arthritis hasn’t magically disappeared.
I honestly have no idea what the next reforms will look like, only that they’re inevitable. As I said in this post, it’s always been a major National goal to get as many people off the benefit as possible. They claim to be doing that at a rate of 16000 people per week – a number which has since been debunked. (See the comments on that last link). They’re also heavily focused on what they call ‘long term beneficiaries’ – ie, anyone who has been accepting a benefit for longer than a year. The goal is to get benefit numbers back to what they were 16 years ago in 1998. That seems highly unrealistic and only achievable through brutality.
I had my first meeting at WINZ yesterday since what happened in Ashburton. It’s always been an intimidating place for me, and now it’s exponentially worse. I am well aware of the need to protect both staff and clients. But holy heck. There was a guard outside the door, who I understand is a police officer. Then two in the main entrance. They both greeted me in a friendly way. There was one more before I reached the desk, then others roaming around. The walls are papered with big signs about how all threats will be taken seriously.
As an anxious person, I just about had a panic attack on the spot. Luckily, one of the staff saw that I was struggling with my cane and offered me a seat so I didn’t have to stand in the queue.
The meeting went fine. My new case manager is kind and she makes sure I’m doing ok. I handed over my new medical certificate, which says that, realistically, I probably won’t be able to work for the next two years. I plan to prove that wrong.
Earlier this year, I did an Official Information Act request for my personal file from WINZ. I asked for all correspondence between WINZ staff, following my revelations about my experiences in the media, and for any other information relating to me. The folio I got back was massive and some of the things I discovered in it were horrifying.
I haven’t published all of that because I am afraid to. But in the light of recent discussions about government surveillance, I do want to share one thing. During that time I was in the media, WINZ staff monitored this site and all of my public social media. They also examined CCTV footage of me in the office. This isn’t against the law as far as I can tell but it sure scared the hell out of me.
So at my meeting yesterday, I asked my case manager if I was, in fact, still being monitored in this way. She went to find out and called me later with this answer.
“Work and Income do monitor print and web media in regards to Work and Income so from time to time this would include your website.”
I understand that I choose to publish here. The social contract of putting information on the internet is that others will read it. I guess the issue with this particular situation is the power balance.
I’m not breaking the law. I’m not about to write a blog about how I’m committing benefit fraud, and I doubt that’s why they’re watching. But this is a government agency that controls my ability to live. And, as I said, I’m an anxious person. What if I say something that is considered the wrong thing?
I’m sure it’s this sort of thinking that leads to a lot of people being silent when they have important stories to tell.
As I said yesterday, I’m still dealing with the results of this election and all the possible huge fallouts. I’m encouraged to see so many people already banding together and looking at new ways to move forward, new ways to help each other, new ways to make sure that, though the government has a lot of power, we, the people, have more.
We can still influence the future. We can still keep our leaders accountable. And we can still give voices to those who need them most.
Always Proud of what and how you write!
It’s really wrong that your social media presence is being monitored because you are on a sickness benefit, whereas retired people like me, who are getting an old age ‘benefit’ can freely criticise the government without risk. You are being intimidated into keeping quiet. Question: “What’s it like living in a country where there’s no freedom of speech?” Answer: “Can’t complain.”
That is just horrific 🙁 how awful to be monitored like that: it’s such an invasion of privacy!
“I am lucky enough to have a medical deferral against my file. To keep that, I have to provide a new medical certificate every three months to prove my arthritis hasn’t magically disappeared.”
Yes, this is sad and bad enough, having to go through this all the time, while so many persons dependent on WINZ have PERMANENT conditions that will NEVER go away, and will impair persons in what they can do.
So indeed, they will try to move yet more off Supported Living onto the deferred Jobseeker benefit category, I am sure, and that is why I and a few others will continue to raise awareness of what REALLY goes on, what MSD’s agenda is, and just as well they “monitor” the media, I hope they will get the message.
There is more work under way, which is not reported on (yet)!
More important info is found on:
Also search online (Google, Yahoo, Bing or else) for nzsocialjusticeblog2013 – and topics covered there, please!
Keep up your spirit, hold tight and keep faith in yourself in hard times, try to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and kia kaha all, the fight is NOT over, and will continue. I hope the day will come where someone challenges MSD and WINZ at the courts, and wins a historic case against the Aylward and Bratt agendas.
Here is a link to one other comprehensive, informative post and thread on this relevant topic:
I know ACC Forum is one with some members that have their own “issues”, and may not appear so “warm” and welcoming as this blog, but some stuff found there provides useful info that may assist some dealing with WINZ and ACC.
As far as I am aware WINZ were not monitoring you because you were possibly committing fraud, but because you were critical of WINZ behaviour and the government in a very public way.
And this is exactly why giving our government the power to collect all our metadata and essentially spy on us is so dangerous.
They say they’re doing it just for our own protection, for our own good. They say they’re doing it to prevent terrorism, cyber crime and child pornography.
They’re doing it to control the population of everyday citizens, to reinforce their power, and for gain for their corporate sponsors and lobbyists.
And that is not democratic.
We’re all watching them. The more we resist by speaking out, the harder their job gets.
Yes, all that “surveillance” is sick, and while it may protect some, it does actually destroy faith in a functioning society, as it only makes things worse, which are already not so great.
As for WINZ issues, there is some good advice available also, follow this link to find it:
It is again rather complex and long, but the key advice is, when you are worried about what may happen to you at WINZ, meeting case managers, and especially having to go to “designated doctors”, or the new private, outsourced, supposedly “independent” work ability assessors, take a trusted support person along as a witness, or use a voice recorder and record it. The latter is totally legal, when you are part of a conversation and want to record it. You will have a record to fall back on, should any disputes or doubts arise.
Precaution is a good step these days, at least in such scenarios, where they mistrust us all, almost that seems. So when they do that, why should we trust them?
That is despite of the fact that some workers there are ok, good and helpful, and can be trusted, but they are definitely all like that.
Your last paragraph is especially inspiring and gives me a renewed sense of hope. No, we didn’t get the election outcome that we wanted but there is still a positive, pragmatic way to deal with that and push forward to get what we want anyway. Let’s all stick together and make that happen.
Some observations of the “work focused” reforms and some personal experiences of the regime and endeavouring to hold Winz and their designated doctors to account.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the frequent abuses under this regime is that the actions of Winz staff and those who contract their “services” to them in implementing these policies, is that their actions are frequently transgressions of the law or at least serious misconduct. In fact the system relies upon this disregard for the law, and the active complicity of organisations whose function it is to police and take appropriate action against persons who transgress the law or codes of ethics. Without this complicity such policies could not be implemented.
Consider the case of “Regional Health and Disability Advisors”. These people are typically second rate nurses, usually without current registration and practicing certificates, whose function appears to be to judge the validity of medical certificates written by far more knowledgeable and highly trained health professionals, usually General Practitioners, and to interfere with the doctor/patient relationship and involve themselves in treatment issues. These “advisors” have no legal status in any legislation, and in acting as they do, they are way outside any nursing scope of practice, involving themselves in activities that legally only medical practitioners can undertake. This is an offense under the provisions of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, which provides for a conviction in such cases and a very substantial fine as a penalty. The authority that has the power to investigate such cases, and if necessary, take disciplinary action is the Nursing Council. I have made a formal complaint to this organisation concerning one such advisor, presenting a solid case which included a description of my own experiences, media reports, and a copy of that person’s job description obtained under the Official Information Act, which clearly established that these people were employed in a role which required registration and a current practicing certificate, and further that their actions where outside of any nursing scope of practice.
The Nursing Council declined to consider my complaint, and this is the text of their response;
“Thank you for your complaints received by the Nursing Council on 2 November 2012 and on 7 December 2012 regarding “Mrs X” and employees of the Ministry of Social Development.
I have considered the information you provided and I am writing to inform you that the Nursing Council will not take any further action on the matter.
The Council notes that the role for which “Mrs X” is employed does not appear to be a nursing role for which a practising certificate is required. The Council is aware that there are many nurses who are employed on the basis that they have a background in health which will make it easier for them to understand health issues but where they are not being asked to provide care or practise as a nurse.
In the Council’s view, these nurses or other health practitioners are not providing care but may be providing advice on entitlement to benefits, etc.
The reason why the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act requires practitioners to have practising certificates is to ensure that practitioners in practice are competent to practise.
In order to ensure competence, the Council puts in place requirements regarding professional development and practice hours.”
This response is of course nonsense, and one is inclined to wonder why this happened. A lack of integrity and/or moral fibre on the part of the person who made this decision, or perhaps government pressure or a fear of the consequences of defying a basically rotten government policy? A bit of all of these things maybe?
I subsequently made an inquiry to the office of the Ombudsman regarding the possibly of a complaint about the Nursing Council. They replied stating that the Nursing Council was not an organisation that the Ombudsman had the authority in investigate, and suggested that I seek legal advice on how to proceed. So for the time being the matter rests unresolved.
To consider the review panels and so called “designated doctors”, cynically known to the medical profession as “tame doctors”. There was a time when these people had a fairly benign role, in providing an avenue of appeal for people who felt that they were entitled to sickness or invalid benefits that had not been granted, and sometimes for the department to decide whether or not to move a beneficiary from the sickness to the invalid benefit. Now it seems they have become an instrument to be used to deny beneficiaries their rights and to force people off benefits and into “work”, not withstanding that in any case, the jobs that these people are supposedly capable of undertaking simply do not exist. Decisions made by these review panels are inconsistent and erratic, with the only common factor being that the greater the influence of Winz, the lower the probability of a favourable decision. In some cases, and I speak from direct experience, Winz instructs these panels to decline appeals, and the reports of the doctors in such cases contain gross distortions, omissions, and outright untruths. Obviously this raises some serious legal issues as well as the matter of professional misconduct. There are clauses in the Crimes Act which could be interpreted as meaning a doctor who acts in the manner described is guilty of a serious criminal offense, although I doubt whether this has ever been tested in a court of law. There is a document available on the Medical Council website entitled “Non treating doctors”, which contains the following statement;
“The Health and Disability Commissioner has concluded that complaints about the contents of an assessment report and complaints about purely paper-based reviews are usually not within the Commissioner’s jurisdiction. The Commissioner cannot look into complaints about these matters, and you should direct such complaints directly to the third party, as the party best placed to address these concerns.”.
Thus it seem that both the Medical Council and the Health and Disability Commissioner are abdicating their responsibilities in these cases. I have written to the Office of the Commissioner seeking clarification of their stance on this matter, but after some weeks I have received no formal reply.
Actually the matter of employees of Winz, or its predecessor, the Social Welfare Dept, interfering in medical matters is a historical problem, and there have always been unprincipled doctors with extreme right wing attitudes who were prepared to be a party to this. Years ago, after seeking legal advice, I made a complaint to the Ministry of Health about a social worker employed by the DSW who believed he was competent to make medical diagnoses, which could only be described as being of a bizarre nature, and also about a GP who aided and abetted this behaviour and accepted unquestioningly the bizarre diagnoses of the social worker. My legal advice, which I believed to be sound, was that the Ministry of Health had the responsibility to investigate and prosecute the social worker, and further the District Medical Officer of Health had the responsibility to investigate and if necessary remove from practice the GP on the grounds that he was affected by a psychiatric disorder. In due course I had a long discussion with the Medical Officer of Health about these matters. He freely agreed with me that the GP in question had mental health issues, but as these were Axis 2 disorders, i.e. personality disorders, as distinct from Axis 1 disorders, that is the major psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar 1, he claimed he had no authority to act, regardless of how serious the consequences of the GP’s actions were. Regarding the social worker, he claimed to have consulted with a senior Medical Officer in the Ministry, who supposedly advised him the Ministry was not the appropriate authority to investigate the social worker. I do not believe for one moment that these people were acting in good faith, and one wonders just how much more suffering was caused by their failure to act in this case.
Winz’s own internal complaints system is of course farcical, whilst in some cases they will sometimes take action to remedy the consequences of misconduct by their employees, they never take any action against those employees, even in the most extreme cases.
So there we have it, an essentially evil policy that causes much suffering and achieves no positive outcomes, that relies on corruption to enable its implementation and continuation, yet those charged with investigating such abuses choose to do nothing about it. Realistically, no so called health professional would risk doing Winz’s dirty work if they knew they could face the wrath of the disciplinary tribunal or the courts as a consequence of their actions. It would only take a very small number of prosecutions or disciplinary actions to put a end to the whole rotten system, yet this seems unlikely in the near future. I am aware that there is considerable unease in a considerable proportion of the medical profession about welfare reforms, which have serious implications regarding doctor/patient relationships, confidentiality, and outcomes. Also the questioning of the validity of certain types of diagnoses such as some psychiatric and physical disorders which do not necessarily have definitive diagnostic tests is quite correctly seen as most unacceptable. The question I ask therefore is, why do these doctors not take a stand? The impression I get is that they are happy for other people to fight these “reforms”, but seem unwilling to do so themselves.
To those of you that keep these matters before the public in various media and in forums, I would like to say thank you and keep up the good work. I believe we will win in the end.
“Consider the case of “Regional Health and Disability Advisors”. These people are typically second rate nurses, usually without current registration and practicing certificates, whose function appears to be to judge the validity of medical certificates written by far more knowledgeable and highly trained health professionals, usually General Practitioners, and to interfere with the doctor/patient relationship and involve themselves in treatment issues.”
Thank you for raising this. This is VERY important indeed, and yes, I know full well, what qualifications and status these “advisors” have. The can and should be challenged all the time, same as so called “Principal Health Advisor” Dr David Bratt ( a faithful follower of biased “research” by Prof. Mansel Aylward fr. the UK, paid for by a convicted, controversial disability insurer called UNUM).
This is what most have NO knowledge of, and it is disgusting, how doctor’s and specialist’s diagnosis and recommendations are so often over ruled or questioned by these “Regional Health Advisors” or “Regional Disability Advisors”, all TRAINED by MSD and overseen and PAID by the Ministry, while they are supposed to make “independent” recommendations.
This is an area where a solid legal case deserves to be built on, to challenge them with their practice, and to make it a class action kind of case, setting a precedent. But they are busy “covering up”, believe you me, I know enough about it, I cannot say and write more here now. It will all come out eventually.
All affected, take care, take precautions, do not blindly trust assessors and doctors paid by WINZ, and take a witness along, or record the whole conversations.
And forget the Health and Disability Commissioner, they are so compromised by their legislation covering them, and what they do, they are useless, even dishonest:
Best wishes, Marc
Muzz, further to your much appreciated comment, yes, I know the law, the Acts covering the medical practitioners, and the HDC, and the law is “an ass” in that regard. As a consumer we are “stuffed”, they have it both ways, one can pass the buck to the other, and nobody is responsible for anything. Discretion is allowed under both Acts, especially the HDC Act, and the HDC use this all the time. When you have over 1,600 complaints in the last year, and only about 60 or so get “formally investigated”, the rest shuffled between “advocacy” and whatever else of “advice”, or rather “taking no further action” (very common), then you see, how “serious” they are about policing health and disability matters.
It is a disgusting state of affairs, and would not be allowed in any other civilised, developed country. But they get away with it here, partly because of the ACC legislation.
Trust me, stuff is before the Ombudsman, but they are also overburdened with work, it is now even a level higher. I and a few initiated in this are with interesting awaiting a decision on a complaint or request to the Auditor General now.
And lest we forget, Acclaim Otago and others have a complaint before the UN to be decided on, which shows how dishonest and dismal disability sufferers in NZ are treated, under law.
Keep up the fight all, the more we suffer, the more it must motivate some of us fighters to take it all the way. Thanks for your time. Take a break, it is late.
The CRUX of the matter is the question, is the person or agency “delivering” a “health” or “disability service”. So the Nursing Council were actually right under existing law to not take it further. It is the same with all RHAs and RDAs, same with Principal Health Advisor Bratt, who likens benefit dependence to “drug dependence”, that they have ceased to be practitioners and service deliverers in health and disability, by simply being “ADVISORS”. There is the legal loophole for them, they are merely “advisors”, and hence they get away with what they do, they are NOT covered by the Health Practitioners Act or the HDC Act.
In regard to legal issues concerning the actions of Winz staff and those who contract their services to them I would like to make some further observations. The law is of course by nature an imprecise and contrived thing, and interpretations of it are often made to fit with the belief system and interests of those that administer it. In the matters we are concerned with, the law is clearly unsatisfactory and a great deal of ducking and diving, buck passing, and general evading of responsibilities is occurring.
Regarding the RHA in question, I first made an inquiry to the office of the HDC about this matter, and this is the text of their reply, which was signed by their legal advisor;
“Thank you for your email. You are concerned that a Regional Disability Advisor employed by the Ministry of Social Development is acting outside their level of competence. This person is a qualified, but not registered, nurse and assesses medical certificates in support of applications for benefits. You are concerned that the rate of rejection by her appears to be close to 100% and this has impacted adversely on a number of people. You ask whether the Disability Advisor’s actions fall within the Commissioner’s jurisdiction.
While I am able to make general comments and indicate those provisions of the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 and the Code that appear particularly relevant to your query, I am not able to give advance rulings on the interpretation and application of the Code. Nor am I able to provide legal opinions to members of the public. However, I hope you will find the following comments helpful.
The Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) administers the Code of Health and Disability services Consumers Rights (the Code). HDC’s complaint resolution role under the Act and the Code concerns matters relating to the quality of Health or disability service delivery. Your concerns relate to the acceptance or denial of applications for sickness/invalids benefits and the competence of employees of those organisations in assessing those applications.
HDC does not administer the HPCAA and your concerns about the Disability Advisor acting outside her scope of practice should be raised with the relevant governing body, which in this case is the Nursing Council of New Zealand.
Furthermore the Ministry of Social Development and WINZ have mechanisms in place to deal with appeals of its processes and systems, and complaints about its employees. It is more appropriate that you raise your concerns with those organisations directly.
I trust these comments are of assistance to you.”
The relevant clause in the HPCAA is as follows;
“No person may perform, or state or imply that he or she is willing to perform, an activity that, by an Order in Council made under this section, is declared to be a restricted activity unless the person is a health practitioner who is permitted by his or her scope of practice to perform that activity.”
In this regard, if RHA’s and their like were sticking strictly to the role described in their position description, that is if they were really just advisors who referred matters to the appropriate health professionals, then they would not be in contravention of this law. However this is not what is happening in reality, these RHAs are making medical assessments of people’s entitlement to benefits, and this is an activity that no nurse is entitled to undertake. Ordinarily only medical practitioners may perform this activity, or in certain specific cases as relevant to their profession, a dentist or a psychologist. To qualify in one of these professions requires a level of ability and degree of knowledge that is orders of magnitude greater then that required for a nurse. Many of the RDAs & RHAs are not even registered nurses, but merely enrolled nurses whose medical knowledge is typically very basic and limited.
The Nursing Council has claimed the RHAs etc are not actually employed in a nursing capacity but simply using their training in an administrative capacity. However on examining their position description and noting what they actually do in practice, that is involving themselves in client care issues even though this may not be directly “hands on’, they being employed as nurses, and thus subject to the usual rules regarding such activities such as current registration, practicing certificates, scopes of practice, etc. In point of fact the Nursing Council does appear to recognise this. By various means, I have discovered the identities of most of Winz’s advisors, and on checking with the on-line register, it can be ascertained that a substantial number do in fact have current registration and practicing certificates. There are certain requirements to qualify for this, namely that they need to be in regular employment in a nursing capacity, and must maintain their nursing competence and knowledge. Thus it follows from this that the Nursing Council does in fact consider these advisors to be employed as nurses. This is in direct contradiction to their official stance that these advisors are not nurses and therefore they will take not action regarding formal complaints about these people. Actually there was a number of distinct elements to my complaint about a particular RHA, which were in essence, that they were not a fit and proper person, they acted outside their scope of practice, and they had no current registration and practicing certificate. In the event, none of these issues were addressed.
Regarding designated doctors who submit reports of a dishonest and misleading nature, this is obviously a clear case of professional misconduct, and as previously noted, possibly a criminal offense, yet there is again an abdication of the responsibility to deal with this by the relevant authorities. Possibly the HDC may not have the authority to act as these are non treating doctors, i.e., not actually involved in care, but the Medical Council certainly cannot just wash its hands of the matter and simply pass responsibility to the HDC as it appears to be doing.
What to do about it? Legal action is incredibly expensive and the people affected typically do not have the means to pursue such a course of action. These are matters that should be exposed by the news media to public scrutiny, and one should also reasonably expect that opposition MPs should pursue such government abuses vigorously. To date however, this does not seem to be happening to any extent. Regrettably, I am inclined to feel that public sympathy for beneficiaries and those who are affected by disabilities and chronic illness is limited, which is perhaps why such abhorrent legislation as the work focus amendments was able to be passed in the first place. However the matter of government and state sector corruption, and a complete disregard for the law, which is something that Winz has a long and unenviable tradition of, is another matter altogether, and does have the potential to raise the public ire. Thus I feel that such abuses are best fought from that perspective.
I understand that you have some sound insight and experience with the manifold issues that are involved, when dealing with RHAs, RDAs, designated doctors and now increasingly also new, supposedly “independent” assessors that WINZ use.
I have looked into this for quite some time, and there are many blurred areas in the law, and the Medical Council will be well familiar with the problems. Simple truth is, they are not really much interested to change things. To have a complaint about a medical practitioner accepted by the Council, or any other authority, the complaint by an end consumer first has to go to the HDC. The HDC has much discretion and many options re how to deal with complaints. Only in very few, serious cases, of death and so, do they refer matters to an authority or the Director of Proceedings (or both). The Medical Council or equivalent one for nurses, will only take on complaints directly from a registered member of their organisation.
As end consumers we are confronted with the HDC as being the GATEKEEPER for complaints. The HDC has a habit of throwing out complaints, using the law to do so, to send them to advocacy, or to make mere, rather meaningless “recommendations” to improve future actions by practitioners.
As for WINZ, yes, generally the HDC will tell people to take their complaints about assessors to them to have them addressed. WINZ are not interested at all in changing things, as the system suits them well, the way it is designed and applied.
So they will cover their RHAs, RDAs, and they cover controversial PHA Dr Bratt (who likens welfare dependence to “drug dependence”).
The media is NOT interested it seems, as they would have to do extensive research, lack the expertise in dealing with these matters, and as they prefer simple “news” that fall into their laps, that are more “exciting” and of interest to the wider public, not just a few hundred or thousand beneficiaries, that “cost” the rest of society money. Beneficiary bashing has seen to it, that there is little motivation for them to bother looking into this.
Legal challenges are hard to make, and when they are made, MSD will suddenly come with “settlement offers”, and once such a process is started, the courts will say that a reasonable settlement comes before taking proceedings further.
So ultimately MSD and WINZ (and with that the government) have the upper hand. Perhaps one day a dedicated investigative journalist of the calibre of Nicky Hager may take a challenge on, and expose what is going on. I really hope for that, as all what I referred to above has been out and public for some time, I do not for one moment believe that neither media, nor the government, medical experts and scientists have not read any of it. This shows the size of the complicity there is.
Referring back to an earlier post, I have finally received a response from the senior legal advisor at the office of the HDC, concerning the matter of designated doctors who are shall we say, a little economical with the truth, and inclined to twist and distort things just a little. It also comes with a message that it is legally privileged information, presumably meaning don’t post it on Sarah’s blog or anywhere else for that matter!
Anyway the guts of it is this. The Commissioner will only consider complaints where the concern is with the manner in which the designated doctors conducted themselves during the actual assessment. I would very much doubt whether conducting a clinical assessment interview with a predetermined bias to find reason to decline the appeal, would qualify on these grounds. Complaints about the content of a report should in their view to made to Winz management, presumably meaning the Chief Executive. On the basis of bitter experience, one knows that Winz will take no action, but the tangible benefit of going though this process is that it provides grounds for a complaint to the Ombudsman. To anyone in a similar situation, I would urge them to go though this process, as the more people that do so, the greater the probability there is for achieving some positive changes.
Of course this in no way lets the Medical Council off the hook, as the matter of dishonest reports is clearly a case of professional misconduct, even if it is unrelated to actual care issues. The next course of action me thinks, is to get a formal response from the Medical Council about their position on these matters.
An evil thought, if everyone who had cause to complain about Winz, and believe me that’s an awful lot of people, made a written complaint sent by snail mail, it would take weeks to evacuate their head office from the mountain of paper descending upon them. With a bit of luck they might all starve before that happened and even their security guards would not be able to prevent it. Even better, the security guards might starve too!
But seriously, the system is clearly dysfunctional, and a lot of people are being denied their rights, and there is dire need for something to be done about it.
Muzz, take it to the Ombudsman, make a complaint to the Ombudsman, if you have made a complaint to the HDC and they have said, it is a matter for WINZ to deal with.
Legal argument: It is NOT a valid consideration by the HDC to consider that a complaint about an assessing medical or health professional is better dealt with by WINZ (or a Medical Appeal Board), as the unprofessional (e.g. biased) conduct of a doctor or other health professional conducting an assessment is a matter to consider by the HDC and the Medical Council.
The professional conduct of a practitioner is stuff the HDC is responsible to address, as for the affected end consumer, the assessed, that is the address to go. NO authority, whether Medical Council or Nursing Council, will bother investigating a complaint from an end consumer, they will tell you to take it to the HDC.
But you can see again, you get the run around, which is intended, by the way the law is constructed. But as the HDC has not followed their own Act, breaching section 38 (1):
“At any time after completing a preliminary assessment of a complaint (whether or not the Commissioner is investigating, or continuing to investigate, the complaint himself or herself), the Commissioner may, at his or her discretion, decide to take no action or, as the case may require, no further action on the complaint if the Commissioner considers that, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, any action or further action is unnecessary or inappropriate.”
Read the last bit, please. The Commissioner must have had regard to all the circumstances of the case! I bet you they have not. And if there is sufficient evidence for professional misconduct, which may be proved by an assessment report being very different from other documented diagnosis (without good reason), and thus not logical, the evidence may prove the HDC did not have regard to all the circumstances of the case.
Present that to the Ombudsman, as the Medical Council will not help you. The HDC did not do their job, and thus acted unreasonably and unfairly, which is enough for the Ombudsman to look at it.
A link to the section of the HDC Act:
P.S.: I have been told the Ombudsman had a similar case put before them!
Have a read through this if you ever have the time, Muzz:
Also a similar, updated post of this type on the HDC is found on ‘nzsocialjusticeblog2013’!
Here is some other interesting stuff to read and absorb into your minds, while we are on this kind of topic:
The figures are not what they seem, the ones we get from the government, and there is too little information on how the “reforms” are working, and what “results” they have had, good or bad.
I have a funny feeling that Paula Bennett kind of sensed, the truth will eventually come out, and not look that great, so she chose to leave that portfolio for new pastures to poison.
But chin up, we had not expected anything else, and will harden, I suppose.
Never give up digging and revealing, and fighting on.
Have a nice day ahead.
Marc, thank you for your suggestions, and I will follow your links.
A little clarification as to what has actually happened and the nature of my communications with the HDC is in order. I have contacted the HDC twice, not to actually lodge a formal complaint, but to seek advice as to the procedure to follow to pursue complaints about firstly the actions of the local RDA/RHA, a nurse without current registration, and secondly to seek advice about, and clarification of the Medical Council document (non treating doctors) regarding designated doctors who with deliberate intent, write and submit to Winz, reports that are both untruthful and contain gross distortions. In the first instance the HDC advised me that they did not administer the HPCAA and that I should lodge a complaint directly with the Nursing Council. I duly did this, and the Nursing Council, as previously noted, declined to take any action regarding my complaint.
A brief background to my concerns is as follows; the local RDA/RHA rejected a benefit application, I appealed this decision and wrote a complaint about this person to the local office. Winz did not refer the matter to a designated doctor for another opinion as is the standard procedure, but short circuited my appeal directly to the review panel, ordinarily the final appeal authority. They did so apparently because they wished to vindicate the RHA’s actions which they of course know are unlawful, and to deal with me quickly, thinking they could by this means get rid of a person who in their view was problematic. They were of course aware that I would pursue the matter of misconduct and unlawful activities by the RHA with external authorities, i.e. the HDC and the Ombudsman, and thus they appeared to believe that they could undermine my case by instructing the review panel to reject my appeal, thus vindicating the RHA. In the event, the conduct of the review doctors during the hearing was heavily biased towards finding reasons to reject my appeal, as they had previously been instructed to reject the appeal by Winz, and they were really only concerned with finding reasons to do this. The review panel were clearly avid “Brattophiles” to coin an expression. Their report did not seek to dispute the original diagnoses, which in any case was to well supported with medical evidence to dispute, and would have ordinarily have given automatic right to a sickness or invalid benefit. However it contained numerous omissions, gross distortions, and outright untruths to support their view that I was capable of full time work. In their warped view, apparently out there somewhere, there exists a job that will match an individual regardless of their disability or illness, and they went so far as to make a few fairly bizarre suggestions to me. The consequences of this misconduct have been profound.
So I am concerned with making a formal complaint about this infamous trio of doctors, but the response to my inquiry about this matter to the HDC suggests that they will not act on such a complaint. Complaining to Winz as they suggest is of course futile.
In reality I believe that organisations such as the HDC office, and the Nursing and Medical Councils, simply do not want to defy the government and uphold the very legitimate complaints about RDAs/RHAs and designated doctors, and they are very dishonest in their handling of these matters. One has to wonder why the Medical Council, if it were an honourable organisation, has not taken disciplinary action against David Bratt, whose beliefs and actions are just outrageous, citing as he does worthless research, advocating harmful courses of action, disputing recognised disease classifications, and for his attacks on such critical matters as the doctor/patient relationship and confidentiality. Unfortunately the medical profession has always had a tendency to cover the tracks of its more disreputable members and this has never been so obvious as in these cases.
Thanks again for those clarifications, Muzz.
I actually know of a very similar case as the one you went through with WiNZ, which happened where a RDA was also the “Acting” RHA. It happened in the Southern Region, where they have for a long time only had one Advisor doing practically both roles, and it is the only region where this is happening.
That “Advisor” has rather “patchy” qualifications, certainly NO medical ones.
And you are spot on with the last chapter of your extensive comment above. Bratt does get away with what he does, as he is officially only an “Advisor”, and not delivering health or disability services, like “treating” persons. So although MSD expect him to have the qualifications he has (as GP and former “advisor” of the Capital and Coast DHB), and although he is still registered, the role he has with MSD and WINZ is not falling under the Health Practitioner Competence Assurance Act. Hence the Medical Council cannot enforce anything on him, that he does rightly or wrongly as “Advisor”.
A complaint to the Ombudsman will have to include complaint aspects on what MSD and WINZ do, as matters that may fall under the HDC may simply be referred back to the HDC, but I would try to cover that as well anyway. Here is what the Ombudsman’s role is:
Look at section 13 (7) (a) though, as they may also throw a complaint out, if they think they could REASONABLY expect a person used other ways to resolve an issue.
Ideally this whole matter with the RHAs, the RDAs and how WINZ use and “abuse” them and their powers, should be heard before a High Court, under judicial review of a decision made. Certainly MAB decisions allow judicial review, if found unfair, unreasonable and thus raising questions of law.
All this is no easy task, but you seem to be somewhat well informed and clued up, so best of luck.
Sarah’s blog concerning Winz keeping an overzealous eye on her brings to mind a bit of history. The practice of spying on beneficiaries by Winz or its predecessor the DSW, is not a new phenomenon but actually has quite a history.
Looking back to the mid to late 1970s, this was an era when substantial unemployment arose for the first time since the Great Depression after the fallout from the first oil shocks, and it was also when the Domestic Purposes Benefit was first introduced. Prior to this time the DSW mainly administered sickness and invalid benefits, as well as old age pensions as they were then known. The response of the DSW to these new categories of beneficiaries was to engage in some serious and controversial snooping, engaging in such activities as interrogating neighbours and flatmates etc to try and find out more about anyone unfortunate enough to have to rely in the state for support. Often this behaviour took the form of plain old spying, that is the hiding in the bushes type of surveillance. The objective was presumably to prove they were defrauding the system, something that the true incidence of was actually minuscule. This behaviour was legally pretty questionable, and was obviously a gross breach of confidentiality. It did receive a lot of very unfavourable media publicity at the time. I doubt very much if this behaviour was ordered by the Minister of Social Welfare, but was most likely just a manifestation of the culture of the department at that time. Some things never change, do they?
The person responsible for starting the whole bene bashing culture was actually Wallace Rowling, the Labour PM who took over after Norman Kirk’s death in office in 1974. Rowling, who was famously nicknamed “the mouse” by Robert Muldoon, and who was to lose the ’75 election in a landslide defeat, tried to convince the voters that the country’s economic problems were the result of the government having to pay out unemployment benefits to shirkers. He wanted to replace the unemployment benefit with a “job search allowance” with sanctions for not seeking work hard enough. Does all this sound familiar? A lot of people who should have known better, failed to engage their brains before their mouths, and were repeating this particular nonsense. As noted, “the mouse” was kicked resoundingly out of office, but unfortunately the culture of bene bashing took hold.
A bit more infamous behaviour occurred during the late 1990s. The previous National administration introduced the infamous “work for the dole” policy. This was subject to much abuse and corruption from both within and outside the DSW/Winz. Unscrupulous people within the state sector sought free forced labour whom they then proceeded to treat very badly. Notable in this regard were a number of school principals. Other people targeted specific beneficiaries with malicious intent without necessarily obtaining the specific consent of their employers, and DSW and Labour Department staff, some of whom are still employed by Winz, were party to this misconduct. This controversial, ill conceived and vindictive policy was scrapped by the incoming Labour administration in 1999, but almost unbelievably, Winz continued to implement the previous government’s policy for a further two years despite a ministerial directive to stop this practice. Only with the much published sacking of Christine Rankin, Winz’s CEO at the time, did this defiance of government policy by Winz finally stop.
And so forward to the present time and the evil and punitive “work focus” reforms. It just goes in cycles it appears. Some observations on the phenomenon are as follows. An image is often portrayed of Winz staff as just ordinary state sector employees who are obliged to implement a draconian government policy, and that it is somehow unfair to hold them to account for their behaviour. However such a view bears little resemblance to reality. Antisocial, bullying behaviour and disregard for the law has a long tradition at Winz and its predecessors. Indeed it had its roots back in the old Social Security Dept decades ago, and the old employment “service” of the Dept of Labour had an even worse reputation if that is possible. Dependent on the government of the day, this culture of antisocial behaviour has tended to be either held in check, or to run rampant. In this context there is not a black / white divide between the two major parties, although the general trend has been for Labour administrations to have a more benign attitude towards beneficiaries. What to do about it? There is a need to hold Winz staff who step out of line to account by lawful means, but this has proved extraordinarily difficult. And please, get rid of those security guards, it would do wonders for improving the atmosphere at Winz!
Thanks for all that helpful, insightful background info on the “culture” at WINZ and their predecessor.
I am sure that Sarah would rather spend her time on more constructive and fulfilling activities than battle on with WINZ, but certain unfortunate, unforeseen events in her life have thrown her into the predicament, where we are in also. Most of us would rather do without all the difficulties the dependency on WINZ brings with it.
But for me and some others I know, our hardship and disappointments and pains soon become motivation to work on a new kind of mission in life. To uncover the truth, to share the information, to perhaps help some here and there, and to take a firm stand against the injustice and punitive stuff we get dealt out.
I appreciate that Sarah has put part of her focus in her blog on these WINZ issues, as there are many others who can read here, what the challenges are, and how to perhaps work with others, to take strong, positive counter action against the injustice, and indeed often stupidity we witness.
Have a great day, despite all troubles –
I appreciate all your comments, however I am going to stop publishing them now. This is because they are very long (have you thought about starting your own blog?), and because some of the things you are saying I find offensive.
I don’t think it is necessary to at the personal nature of politicians and WINZ workers (as in your further comment, which I am afraid I won’t publish).
Thank you again for being part of the discussion here.
Sarah, just found this particular blog and reading some of the posts here there is some very interesting stuff about the goings on at winz. Some time ago you talked about collecting peoples stories about their not so good experiences with winz. You asked people to write their stories and send them to you. You were then going to collect these and then pass them on to a Labour MP who had contacted you after your original story appeared in a local paper if I remember correctly. This MP would then take the matter further. This all seemed like a good idea and I guess people hoped that it might improve the situation in future. But nothing more seemed to be heard about what this MP did with all this stuff and nothing seemed to happen which was a pity.
Could you tell us what happened as a result of this. I am sure lots of people would still be interested.
Excellent question. I collated all the stories and sent them to Maryan Street, who was the Labour MP for Nelson at the time. She provided them to Sue Moroney, Labour’s spokesperson for Social Development.
At that point Labour attempted to launch a survey capturing more stories on their website. I can’t seem to find that survey any more so I guess it failed. I was also told that they were planning a nationwide campaign that would include asking questions in the House, and I had a lot of confidence in Maryan and Sue when I met with them.
I guess the election took priority but I would be very interested to see if anyone was going to take up the reigns on this again as I am still receiving stories from people who need help.
I am very grateful to everyone who sent me their personal information and I wish I could promise them something concrete was happening with it. I will attempt to find out more.
Thank you for prompting me to do this.
Sarah hope it’s still ok to respond to Muzz here.
Just to point something out with the RHA/RDAs. The Social Securities Act allows Work and Income to get “an opinion” from anyone they choose, in this case the RHA/RDAs.
However, under the Privacy Act they can’t place false information on your file. Usually this will occur when your Dr signs a certificate or letter supporting a cost, but the RHA/RDA says they spoke to the Dr and the Dr has changed their mind/didn’t really mean what they wrote.
Go back to the Dr and ask for their account or any notes they took of the alledged conversation.
Then bring in the Privacy Officer for Work and Income etc, etc.
The curious thing is that Work and Income will immediately dismiss any staff member who inappropriately accesses a clients file (breach of privacy). BUT they have yet to implement this immediate dismissal if a staff member is found to have added false information – in some cases REPEATEDLY targeting a client.
Z – If I may add my bit to this, the law is not so clear cut on this. Work and Income must first of all try and agree with a client, who to see for a medical examination. Only if an agreement cannot be reached, can they insist on a client seeing a designated doctor they may suggest.
http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1964/0136/latest/DLM5469765.html and also
http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1964/0136/latest/DLM5478532.html (see section 4 there)
What this legally means is, that a client can suggest a doctor of her/his own choice, and if WINZ are not happy with that, they must give a well based reason as to why they reject a doctor the client chooses. The law has not been tested on this, as far as I know, but I am sure, they cannot simply dictate to a client to go and see one of their preferred doctors (some of whom at least are biased, and are consulted by RHAs and RDAs).
See also the info found here:
And try ‘nzsocialjusticeblog2013’ also, which gives more details re all this.
All this is a bit different with “work ability assessors”, who do not conduct medical examinations as such.
Sarah, I am not sure if you will allow this, but the last post was directed to myself so I feel it would be useful to all who have an interest in this matter for me to respond, so here goes.
Thank you for your suggestions “Z”, it was a line of action that had not occurred to me and in certain cases I think it could be well worth pursuing.
To further explain the concerns with the designated doctors and the local RHA/RDA, the situation with the designated doctors is that whilst their reports are dishonest and misrepresent the true situation, the trend is for this to take a negative rather than a positive form, in that they are omitting evidence in support of the appellants case, and distorting the facts of the case to support their position, rather than making statements that are fabricated untruths. I hope that makes sense. I have no doubt that this happens at Winz’s behest, but a formal record of such instructions is unlikely to exist. I am included to feel that from a Privacy Act perspective the case may not be strong enough unfortunately. I believe it is really a matter of professional misconduct, but as has been discussed there are a lot of difficulties in pursuing these matters from this perspective.
Regarding the RHA/RDAs there are the obvious concerns with the rejection of medical certificates, the legalities of which have been discussed. This is a nationwide issue, but there are a lot of additional concerns about the actions of the local RHA. I am not sure if this is a general problem, or if this is a case of a rogue individual. The issues of concern are the pressuring of GPs re medical certificates, i.e. trying to force them to write what she wishes, not the doctor’s professional opinion written in good faith, generally hassling GPs and interfering in treatment issues, and also the altering of medical certificates. She has targeted for vindictive action specific individuals and also particular groups of people who have previously been granted sickness benefits, in particular people affected by depression and generalised anxiety, as well as certain types of chronic physical illness. Again some of this is a widespread problem but there is a particular vehemence in the behaviour of the RHA in question that may not be a general problem. There is certainly a lot of concern and annoyance amongst local GPs about this behaviour.
Anyway I will discuss this with people I know to be affected by these things, and perhaps OIA requests followed by Privacy Act complaints will prove an effective way of dealing with this.
Re Winz disciplining their own staff, it is apparent that they will take swift action against anyone whose actions are perceived to be offences against the department, but will not take action if the transgression is against a client. That is the unfortunate distinction.