Tuesday December 11, 2018
Saturday, 17 March 2018 08:25

Dispute over travel stops ACC payments

  Christopher Booth had his ACC compensation payments suspended. Christopher Booth had his ACC compensation payments suspended. John Hawkins/Stuff

Christopher Booth was facing serious hardship after his weekly ACC compensation payments were suspended.

"I couldn't pay my rent this week. I was afraid I was going to be kicked out of my house," he said.

The payments were stopped after Booth, of Invercargill, failed to attend a neurologist appointment in Dunedin on Friday last week, but he maintains that travelling for a couple of hours each way could cause a permanent deterioration in his condition because of the vibration experienced while driving in a vehicle.

An ACC spokesman said there was no medical information on Booth's file at the time that indicated his condition made him unable to travel.

As Booth had previously failed to attend an appointment with a neurologist while living in Timaru, this second failure to attend meant that his ACC payments would be stopped as he was deemed non-compliant, the spokesman said.

However, Booth produced a letter, dated March 6, informing him that if he failed to attend the appointment on March 9, he risked losing his payments.

He only received that letter on Saturday March 10, a day after the appointment.

Although the date of the letter is not being disputed, the ACC spokesman said that another letter had also been sent to Booth on February 9, reminding him of the appointment and warning him of the implications of not attending.

"We emailed his [former] GP on 15 February to confirm an appointment had been arranged in Dunedin. His [former] GP supported Mr Booth travelling to the appointment, as it was "in his best interests to attend".  It was also suggested that Mr Booth could take a DHB shuttle to Dunedin Hospital," the spokesman said.

Booth suffers from Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, a condition caused by extended exposure to vibration. In Booth's case, this was sustained while working as a small engine mechanic on motorcycles.

The condition affects the hands initially, with circulation, muscles and nerves suffering damage. If identified at an early stage, there is the potential for recovery, as long as no further exposure to vibration takes place. However, once it has reached an advanced stage, symptoms will not improve, and further exposure to vibration will accelerate deterioration.

"When you're at this stage of the disease, when you have a severe case of the disease, it is not wise to travel anywhere because of the exposure, and especially now that I'm getting it in the inner ear," Booth said.

In Booth's case, it produces severe pain and loss of sensation in his hands, while he also says he is suffering inner ear issues related to the disease, as it has spread from his hands up his arms into his shoulders, neck, and jaw.

The spokesman said ACC contacted Booth's current GP earlier this week to get her opinion on whether her patient was fit to travel to Dunedin for the neurologist appointment.

Based on her input they had already decided to reinstate Booth's weekly ACC compensation payments, the spokesman said.

However, even though he has only lost a week's worth of payments thus far, it has already caused Booth a fair bit of expense.

"Two automatic payments didn't go out, that that's $50 in bank fees. I'm out another $45 for the doctor to explain to them how bad the disease is, and I expect a visit from my landlord because the rent payment didn't go out," he said.

A new neurologist appointment is also being set up for Booth, taking into account his inability to travel.

"The neurologist [from Auckland] Mr Booth was supposed to see in Dunedin has agreed to our request to travel to Invercargill (at our cost) to see him, so we will begin arranging this," the spokesman said.

Booth however remained sceptical, and said it felt like ACC were "flexing their muscles" and "holding [him] to ransom".

"It's wrecking people's minds with what they are doing and the decisions that they make," he said.


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