In Her Head: Women’s health – ACC payments for harmful treatments $27 million


Thousands of women have received large taxpayer-funded payments after being rejected by our healthcare system. Photo / 123rf

In Her Head is a Herald campaign for better health services for women. Health journalist Emma Russell investigates what’s wrong with our system and speaks to wāhine who have been made to feel that their serious illness is a figment of their imagination or “just part of being a woman”.

Thousands of women have received large taxpayer-funded payments after being rejected by our healthcare system.

Over $27 million has been donated over the past five years.

This includes compensation awarded to women who filed for VAC after being injured by surgical mesh, birth control, gynecological cancer treatment or childbirth.

Information obtained by the Herald reveals that payments for the 4,182 claims have increased significantly. Surgical mesh payments rose from $500,000 in 2017 to $5.1 million last year, and birth injury payments fell from $500,000 in 2017 to $3.2 million last year. last year.

The findings are part of a new Herald project called In Her Head, launching today. It follows the stories of women who say our healthcare system made them feel like their crippling illness was a figment of their imagination or “just part of being a woman.”

The project aims to empower more wāhine to speak out and provoke discussion about how we treat women in our healthcare system.

It highlights serious problems in the way women were treated, including:

• Persistent misuse of surgical mesh in childbirth trauma operations, despite bans on its use in other countries.

• Long and unpredictable wait times for endometriosis, an often debilitating disease that leaves many women in extreme pain.

• Shocking accounts of a medical misunderstanding of women’s health issues, such as a person with endometriosis who said her GP told her when she was 15 to get pregnant.

Orna McGinn, an Auckland GP and women’s health researcher, said the ACC payments uncovered by the Weekend Herald were a very small snapshot of the women left behind by our system.

Many were ineligible for ACC coverage because it only covered a very small set of health conditions women experienced, McGinn said.

For example, women who waited years, sometimes decades, to be diagnosed with endometriosis had no right to make a claim. Similarly, many birth injuries were also not covered, and information received by the Herald did not include people with postnatal depression without effective support.

“Every day I see women let down by our system and there are so many areas that could be improved to improve their outcomes,” she said.

McGinn said she believed birth control was a basic human right and should be made free, but there were so many barriers that immediately translated into poorer outcomes on the path.

“We have a very high rate of unintended pregnancies which are more likely to end in adverse outcomes like stillbirth, neonatal death and maternal suicide,” she said.

A mum, who battled severe postnatal depression and then became pregnant after a surgeon made a mistake when tying her tubes, has described her ACC experience as ‘brutal’ and says she can understand why people don’t would not make the effort to file a complaint.

Monique Cross said she had to undergo intense psychological evaluations to see if she was “bad enough to need counseling”.

Monique Cross described her experience with ACC as brutal.  Photo / Michael Cunningham
Monique Cross described her experience with ACC as brutal. Photo / Michael Cunningham

“As someone who had internalized everything and said it was all my fault, this whole ACC process did a lot of damage. It felt like I was being put on the helm to prove that “Actually, I’m a decent person and my trauma was caused by my births and a treatment-related injury,” Cross said.

ACC’s acting chief operating officer Gabrielle O’Connor said she recognizes that mental injury assessments can be difficult, but are necessary to ensure that appropriate treatment and therapy were provided.

McGinn said the pandemic has further worsened access to health services for women. Wait times were growing and there was a growing backlog as care was not provided during the shutdowns.

“At this point, it could be years before they are seen in the public system for their endometriosis, prolapse or any other non-immediate life-threatening gynecological condition,” she said.

ACC payments are made under a “no-fault” system, which involves no wrongdoing or blaming of individual health workers. The money can cover lost earnings, the cost of treatment and rehabilitation.

Data showed that each year hundreds of claims were paid for surgical stitches and birth injuries, but hundreds more were denied because they did not meet ACC compensation requirements .

A 2021 ACC report found that women were less likely to apply for VAC and more likely to be denied when they did. They also received much less compensation than the men.

In response to this report, the Government has taken steps to increase coverage for certain birth injuries.

Advocates said it demonstrated what could be done to improve women’s health, but it was still a “band-aid approach” and little was being done to prevent these injuries.

“We really need a proactive, preventative approach,” McGinn said.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said improving health care for women in New Zealand was a key priority and the government was committed to implementing a wide range of initiatives to support this.

“In particular, there is a focus across the health sector on improving access and equity to sexual and reproductive health services such as abortion care, long-term reversible contraceptives action (LARC), maternity and maternal mental health services, and screening for breast and cervical cancer.”

“Health reforms provide an opportunity to change our approach to women’s health,” Verrall said.

Follow women’s personal stories of poor health care in our interactive grid below. Click on a face to access the full story.


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