27 Oct 2021

Change coming after political outcry over ACC privacy revelations

8:01 pm on 27 October 2021

The government has indicated changes are afoot following a major outcry into the way ACC claimants' private information has been freely shared and mocked by staff.

ACC Building in Wellington

Health advocates and political parties have called for a culture change at ACC. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Health and political groups are now calling for urgent changes to the way the ACC safeguards personal and medical information.

RNZ revealed this morning that 12 staff had been stood down pending an investigation into them sharing details of clients' injuries and mocking them in a private Snapchat group.

The revelation shocked many in the halls of Parliament today.

National Party leader Judith Collins said staff involved should be sacked and she wanted an investigation into how the behaviour was allowed at an organisation that holds sensitive information about people.

"I was a former minister of ACC. I was so disgusted about that - how could people do that. Instead of taking people's private, very personal health information and then have a laugh about it," she said.

Act leader David Seymour is disgusted too. He says 1414 staff have access to sensitive claims, which deal with sexual abuse.

He said such information should be more closely guarded.

"They actually need to ensure that when you share traumatic details with the government ypou've got some hop that they'll keep them secret, just as, for example, any private doctor's clinic would be expected to do," he said.

Meanwhile, the Green Party - with strong support from the health and welfare sector - has called for a major shake-up to the way ACC safeguards personal and medical information.

In an open letter to the new chair of ACC, Steve Maharey, it says recent reports by RNZ of privacy breaches, extensive backlogs and battles to get support shows the agency is letting too many people fall through the cracks, and an overhaul is needed.

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Labour MP Jan Tinetti Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Labour MP Jan Tinetti, speaking on behalf of the ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni, indicated changes were coming.

In response to a question from Act MP Brooke van Velden, who said she was aware of one woman who didn't want to lodge a sensitive claim due to privacy concerns, Tinetti said she expected privacy to be a priority for the body.

"I am concerned about the claims that are coming forward and have noted that it is clear ACC does have work to do to reassure New Zealanders that their private information is safe," Tinetti said.

"And as Minister I have made it clear to ACC that privacy and culture are to be a priority. This will be in my next letter of expectations, which I will discuss with the new ACC chair who is coming in in the next couple of weeks, along with the board chair.

A former ACC employee, who worked in the Hamilton call centre worker until very recently, said the behaviour was not a surprise.

"Sadly this behaviour is widespread and the minister's comments are inaccurate," he said.

"Sensitive claims information was open to any customer services representative. I also witnessed this representatives discuss and joke about injury details every day.

"Frequent callers were the butt of break room jokes and meeting jibes. Many of the staff are wonderful people, but the culture certainly needs to be addressed."

RNZ has asked ACC for an update on the investigation.

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