19 Nov 2021

National wants Carmel Sepuloni held accountable for ACC failures

10:01 am on 19 November 2021

ACC staff are still facing huge workloads and a backlog of tasks running into the tens of thousands, despite the agency's insistence that things are improving.

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File image. Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

The Public Service Association said it has heard of overdue tasks - now sitting at nearly 33,000 - being manipulated to make the backlog look better.

As of 9 November, there were 32,945 overdue tasks, according to ACC figures obtained by the National Party. This included more than 2000 overdue Priority 1 tasks that were critical to getting clients set up and on the road to recovery.

This was down from around 55,000 overdue tasks in July, ACC said.

Most of the backlog was "Assisted Recovery" where most ACC clients were managed by teams of people. There was currently a queue of more than 31,000 tasks overdue.

RNZ reported in August that staff had told their union colleagues were dropping like flies as a result of overwhelming caseloads following a $74 million restructure of its case management system designed to improve efficiency.

ACC executives later admitted to MPs it was struggling to clear some 41,767 overdue tasks, with some more than seven months overdue.

The Public Service Union said staff caseloads were still high.

PSA organiser Brodie Croucher said "I'd like to say that we've seen a big improvement in the workload, but that's not what our members are saying".

Some members reported several tasks belonging to a client were being merged into one in order to make the numbers look better, he said.

"I have heard that has happened. I'm not sure that it's a widespread problem.

"But the fact remains that the work has to be done by our members and the ACC staff and, unfortunately, we are not seeing a huge improvement yet."

Staff turnover was very high and ACC acknowledged it was difficult to recruit new employees, yet workers who raised concerns about the new system were viewed negatively by management, he said.

Physiotherapy New Zealand chief executive Sandra Kirby said the new case management system had been causing problems for physios and patients for the last two years.

"Many of our members are still reporting it takes two, sometimes three weeks to get a response to an urgent request and that their patients are having their suffering extended as a result of the delays," Kirby said.

"Some of our members would still question whether the system still can be fixed, or whether it actually is fundamentally flawed."

National Party ACC spokesperson Simon Watts said Minister for ACC Carmel Sepuloni should be accountable for the failure of the new case management system.

"The minister of ACC's Next Generation Case Management system has fallen disastrously short of public expectations," Watts said.

That was after ACC executives assured MPs in July that "everything was okay", he said.

"What we are seeing through the information that we're being given is not the picture that is being painted by this government and that raises alarm bells."

Sepuloni said National's view was "unfair".

"ACC has said that it needs some time to embed. And so we need to give it a little bit of time," Sepuloni said.

ACC started trialling the system in September 2017 and completed the roll out in September 2020.

ACC acting chief operating officer Gabrielle O'Conner said it was not practice to amalgamate tasks and it actively encouraged feedback from staff about how its systems were working.

"The Assisted Recovery Team operate a process where each time a Recovery Assistant either answers a phone call or completes a piece of work, they should be completing all tasks that relate to that clients needs," O'Conner said.

"If ACC employees or the PSA have examples that show tasks are being amalgamated we would very much like to know about it so we can look into this."

We also ask our people to let their leaders know of any issues they experience or ideas they have so we can resolve or introduce a new way of doing things as quickly as possible.

Assisted Recovery received between 6,000 to 7,000 new tasks each day, ACC said.