MSD RELEASE OIA INFO ON FAILED MHES TRIALS THREE YEARS LATE, ONLY UPON ADVICE BY THE LONG UNDERFUNDED, HALF COMMITTED NZ OMBUDSMAN


MSD RELEASE OIA INFO ON FAILED MHES TRIALS THREE YEARS LATE, ONLY UPON ADVICE BY THE LONG UNDERFUNDED, HALF COMMITTED NZ OMBUDSMAN

 

A report on how the New Zealand Ombudsman ‘investigated’ an Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) complaint about the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) after a two year delay, and then advised MSD to release at least some formerly refused information, also proving that Mental Health Employment Services (MHES) trials failed to deliver!

Published: 28 January 2018

 

CONTENTS:

PART 1 – INTRODUCTION
PART 2 – THE OIA REQUESTS MADE TO MSD ON 1 OCT. 2014
PART 3 – MSD’S FIRST REPLY TO THE OIA REQUESTS, DATED 31 OCT. 2014
PART 4 – THE COMPLAINANT’S ‘DELAY COMPLAINT’ TO THE OFFICE OF OMBUDSMEN, DATED 13 DEC. 2014
PART 5 – MSD’S FIRST RESPONSE TO THE OIA REQUESTS, DATED 26 FEB. 2015, MISSING IMPORTANT ASKED FOR INFORMATION
PART 6 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S INITIAL DECISION ON THE ‘DELAY COMPLAINT’, DATED 5 MARCH 2015
PART 7 – THE COMPLAINANT’S FURTHER OIA COMPLAINT TO THE OFFICE OF OMBUDSMEN, DATED 9 MARCH 2015
PART 8 – THE OMBUDSMEN OFFICE’S CORRESPONDENCE FROM 13 JUNE 2015 TO 21 DEC. 2016 – AND ENDLESS DELAYS IN THE MATTER
PART 9 – THE OMBUDSMEN OFFICE’S LATE ANNOUNCEMENT OF 8 MAY 2017 TO INVESTIGATE THE COMPLAINT
PART 10 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S PROVISIONAL OPINION ON THE COMPLAINT, DATED 24 OCT. 2017
PART 11 – THE COMPLAINANT’S FORMAL RESPONSE TO THE ‘PROVISIONAL OPINION’, DATED 28 OCT. 2017, INSISTING THAT MORE INFORMATION BE MADE AVAILABLE
PART 12 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S FINAL OPINION, DATED 14 NOV. 2017, IGNORING MOST OF THE APPEALS BY THE COMPLAINANT
PART 13 – THE COMPLAINANT’S REMAINING CONCERNS AND THE OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATOR’S EMAIL OF 16 NOV. 2017, CONFIRMING THE FILE WILL BE CLOSED
PART 14 – MSD’S FURTHER INFORMATION RELEASE OF 22 NOV. 2017, SHOWING HOW MHES TRIALS WERE A FAILURE
PART 15 – CONCLUSION: THE OMBUDSMAN LARGELY LETS OFF MSD ON MATTERS OF SERIOUS CONCERN, AND TAKES NO FURTHER ACTION DESPITE OF SIGNIFICANT OIA BREACHES

 
 

PART 1 – INTRODUCTION

The information requester in this interesting matter had made some earlier OIA requests to MSD, where he had sought information on the way sick and disabled on health and disability related benefits were being examined and assessed for ability to work, and on what ‘services’ the Ministry provided in various forms, to ‘assist’ particular groups of beneficiaries into open employment. In order to obtain further information on newly announced, and also on some existing services, the requester sent another OIA request to MSD on 1 October 2014.

He asked mainly for new information about so called ‘Mental Health Employment Services’ (MHES), ‘Sole Parent Employment Services’ (SPES), and ‘Work Ability Assessment’ (WAA) services, for which MSD and Work and Income had entered contracts with a number of providers. He asked about the fees being paid, about ‘wrap around services’ being offered by providers, about numbers of clients referred, about medical problems those referred with health conditions and disabilities may have suffered, about expectations placed on sick and disabled on benefits, about targets and outcomes expected of the providers of services.

The requester also asked for information on sanctions imposed on beneficiaries who had refused to meet set obligations, and he asked for information on how many benefit recipients had their benefits terminated due to self harm, suicide or early death. Information was also sought on advice given and expectations communicated to medical practitioners who would examine and assess clients for health conditions and work ability for MSD. Information on threats, assaults and the likes by beneficiaries towards staff was also requested, same as on how many clients had been trespassed for certain periods of time. And last not least, a resource manual called ‘Medical Appeals Board – a resource for Board Members’ or its replacement was also requested, same as info about a ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’.

Although the requester asked for a response within the stipulated 20 working days, he was aware that he had made a comprehensive OIA request, so he prepared himself for the Ministry requesting extra time for its response. Initially MSD would only send a brief email acknowledgment of his request, dated 2 Oct. 2014, but a request for extended time to answer the OIA request came (by email and attached letter) on 31 October 2014, announcing that a final response would be with the requester no later than by 28 Nov. 2014. That deadline passed, and another email from MSD followed on 23 Dec. 2014, stating MSD were aware the response was overdue, and that they would ‘endeavour’ to provide one ‘as soon as possible’.

Already after the first extension deadline had passed, the requester wrote a delay complaint to the Office of Ombudsmen, which he sent in by email on 13 December 2014, because he had experienced repeated delays with MSD’s OIA responses. His initial OIA complaint would be decided on by 5 March 2015, with the Ombudsman Ron Paterson acknowledging MSD’s “failure to meet the requirements imposed by the OIA”, but also writing that he considered it unnecessary to take any further steps. This was due to MSD having finally sent their OIA response to the requester on 26 Feb. 2015.

While MSD provided a fair amount of the information that the requester had sought, the Ministry (MSD) left a few requests unanswered, and unreasonably refused some other information. Hence the requester wrote a further complaint to the Ombudsmen, dated 9 March 2015. He raised his concerns that a number of requests had not been completely and appropriately answered, and he asked the Ombudsman to continue investigating the matter, as MSD failed to provide information that he should have reasonably been able to expect.

After receiving a slightly confusing email update on his complaint dated 13 June 2015, and an update with a re-assessment report dated 31 August 2015, stating that the complaint was ‘queued for allocation’ to an Investigator in Christchurch, the complainant would not note any progress with it until 8 May 2017. A new investigator in the Auckland Ombudsmen Office would finally pursue the matter further with MSD, but in a letter of 16 May 2017 she informed the complainant that not all of the issues he had raised could be dealt with under the OIA. The investigation that followed then resulted in a provisional opinion dated 24 Oct. and the final opinion of Ombudsman Donnelly dated 14 Nov. 2017. The complainant raised remaining concerns and provided further comments in letters of 28 Oct. and 16 Nov. 2017.

MSD agreed with the Ombudsman to release only some additional information to the requester. Firstly the requester and complainant would receive an email on 8 Nov. 2017, having an out-dated copy of the ‘Guide to Designated Doctors’ attached, and on 22 Nov. 2017 MSD sent him some ‘further information’, in response to Requests 2, 4 and 7 of 1 Oct. 2014. Some of this did at least reveal that the formerly announced MHES trials, which the Ministry had run, had been a clear failure. For the remainder of the complaint the Ombudsman wouldn’t accept that MSD had otherwise failed in its duties under the OIA in meeting certain other requirements, and he decided to close the file, despite of the requester’s expressed dissatisfaction about the final outcome. It was clear that MSD had breached the OIA in respect of a number of aspects raised with the complaint, but it appeared the Ombudsman could not be bothered with thoroughly reviewing the file.

The details about the requests made, and about the slow progress of the 2 years delayed investigation by the Office of Ombudsmen will be presented in the following, with the authentic, partly anonymised correspondence and documents made available via hyperlinks.

This report shows yet again, how years of under-funding of the over-worked Office of Ombudsmen led to totally unacceptable delays, and how the Ombudsman would in the end be only half-committed to achieve a final and acceptable outcome for the complainant. It raises serious concerns about the way OIA requests are handled by ministries and their departments, and how poorly the Ombudsmen ‘resolve’ some complaints by concerned New Zealanders.

 

PART 2 – THE OIA REQUESTS MADE TO MSD ON 1 OCT. 2014

On 1 October 2014 the information requester made a comprehensive, written request to MSD, seeking a wider range of information under the OIA. He asked for new information about so called ‘Mental Health Employment Services’ (MHES), ‘Sole Parent Employment Services’ (SPES), and ‘Work Ability Assessment’ (WAA) services, for which MSD and Work and Income had entered contracts with a number of providers. Besides of details about the providers’ addresses the requester asked for details about the services being offered.

The requester asked for information about fees being paid, about outcome expectations, about so-called ‘wrap around services’ that appeared to also be offered by providers. He asked about the numbers of clients being referred to MHES, SPES and other services delivered by providers, about job placements of referred clients, about medical problems some of the referred persons with health conditions and disabilities may have suffered, and what was done then. He asked for information about work ability and medical assessments, about expectations that were placed on sick and disabled on benefits, and about the targets and outcomes that MSD expected of the providers of the above mentioned services.

The requester also asked for information on sanctions imposed on Jobseeker Support (deferred) and Supported Living Payment (SLP) beneficiaries who had refused to meet certain obligations, and he asked for information on how many such benefit recipients had their benefits terminated due to self harm, suicide or early death. Information was also requested on advice given and expectations communicated to medical practitioners who do examine and assess clients for health conditions and for work ability for MSD. Other information on threats, assaults and the likes – by beneficiaries towards staff – was also requested, same as on how many clients had been trespassed for certain periods of time. Lastly a resource manual called ‘Medical Appeals Board – a resource for Board Members’ was also requested, same as information about a ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’.

An authentic text of the complete request letter, with the various points of request, and other relevant information, dated 1 Oct. 2014, with some personal information redacted, is found via this hyperlink:
MSD, OIA request, MHES, WAA, other support services, issues, questions, anon, 01.10.2014

Here is a link to a media report in the Herald on Sunday of 30 June 2013, which revealed plans of the NZ Government to shift mentally ill into work, using programs such as MHES:

Govt will pay to shift mentally ill into work, Herald on Sunday, 30 June 2013:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10893823

 

PART 3 – MSD’S FIRST REPLY TO THE OIA REQUESTS, DATED 31 OCT. 2014

Initially MSD sent the requester a brief standard reply email, which was on 2 October 2014, and which simply informed him that the request had been forwarded to the ‘appropriate officials’ at National Office.

On 31 Oct. 2014 MSD wrote to the requester, informing him “that the Ministry will provide a response but needs to extend the time available to answer your request”. The Ministry’s response would be with the requester no later than by 28 Nov. 2014, so did Elisabeth Brunt, General Manager Ministerial and Executive Services, write in that letter. As a reason she stated that the Ministry would need further time to consult with other parties on the release of the information that had been requested.

An authentic scan copy of that letter, dated 31 Oct. 2014, party redacted to protect the privacy of the requester, can be found via the following link:
MSD, O.I.A. request, MHES, WAA, other supported services, issues, 1.10.14, 1st reply, anon, 31.10.14

 

PART 4 – THE COMPLAINANT’S ‘DELAY COMPLAINT’ TO THE OFFICE OF OMBUDSMEN, DATED 13 DEC. 2014

After MSD had more or less promised that the requester would get a response to his requests by 28 Nov. 2014, nothing happened for weeks to come. He waited for another two weeks, to give MSD a chance to respond a few days late, after the deadline which the Ministry had set itself. But as it had happened before on a number of occasions, no correspondence came forth.

Hence the complainant decided to write to the Office of Ombudsmen, and with a letter dated 13 December 2014, sent by email, he filed a complaint about MSD, because the Ministry had failed to comply with the provisions of the OIA, as their response was now well overdue. He asked the Ombudsman to raise this with MSD, and to investigate the matter. He mentioned also that there were at least two other complaint cases against MSD before the Ombudsman, where MSD had failed to provide him with reasonably sought information. As usual he attached the relevant earlier correspondence with MSD to his Ombudsman complaint letter.

On 17 Dec. 2014 the complainant received a first email confirmation for his correspondence from the Office of Ombudsmen, providing him with reference number 39xxx4. A mention was made of ‘a large number of enquiries’, and so forth, and he was informed that his complaint was currently at the initial assessment stage. On 16 Jan. 2015 the complainant did then also receive a letter by Prof. Ron Paterson, Ombudsman, updating him on his ‘delay’ complaint. He informed the complainant that he was making enquiries of the Ministry and would write to him again shortly.

A PDF with the authentic text of that complaint by the information requester, partly redacted, and dated 13 Dec. 2014, can be found via this hyperlink:
Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, failure to comply w. O.I.A. rqst fr. 01.10.14, ltr, anon, 13.12.2014
A PDF with a scan copy of the authentic, partly redacted, email by the complainant, carrying that complaint, of 13 Dec. 2014 can be found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, OIA rqsts, 1.10.14, failure to respond, complainant email, 13.12.14
A PDF with a scan copy of the first formal response letter by Ombudsman Ron Paterson, dated 16 Jan. 2015, can be found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES, etc., refusal, Ombudsman’s ltr, 16.01.2015

 

PART 5 – MSD’S FIRST RESPONSE TO THE OIA REQUESTS, DATED 26 FEB. 2015, MISSING IMPORTANT ASKED FOR INFORMATION

After the Ombudsman Ron Paterson had informed the complainant and information requester by way of a letter dated 16 Jan. 2015, that he was making inquiries with MSD re his complaint, and that he would respond again soon, the requester did on 26 Feb. 2015 get a formal email response from MSD, providing a fair amount of the requested information.

But upon reading and analysing the information that was presented to him in an attached letter, he noted that some important and potentially sensitive information, which he had sought, had simply not been provided. While some information had been refused with references to refusal grounds provisions in the OIA (section 18), other information was simply not provided, without any explanations or reasons having been given.

Nevertheless, the Ministry provided some useful information on the head-office addresses of SPES providers, being in response to request 1, but at the same time referred to an earlier response of 24 April 2014 for the same information on MHES providers. Also provided was some information on the ‘fee structure’ for SPES, and again was a reference made to an earlier response of 24 April 2014, for fees MSD pays to providers of the MHES, which was in response to OIA request 2.

Not much useful information was provided in reply to request 3 regarding ‘wrap around services’ being offered to participants of MHES and other services, but it appeared that relevant providers would simply refer persons needing additional health-, disability- and addiction services to ‘existing health and clinical support’ service providers, like perhaps hospitals, special clinics or perhaps counselling services (without providing details). No information was provided on roles and qualifications of staff working for service providers.

Some information was provided in response to request 4 on MHES and SPES referrals and on persons approached to participate, and also did two tables provide details for some persons exiting the MHES and SPES for a variety of reasons. But figures in the tables were only shown for ‘As at the end of October 2014’, leaving the requester with some lack of clarity.

The Ministry refused information pertaining to the well-being of beneficiaries after their referral to service providers, as it wrote it would not record such data (OIA refusal section 18(e)). See request 5 for the original question and request put to the Ministry. Also was no new information provided about WAA service providers and the services they deliver, which had been asked for with request 6. Once again, the requester was referred back to the Ministry’s 24 April 2014 response.

No new information was provided in response to request 7 and on what expectations Work and Income places on sick and disabled receiving health related benefits (Jobseeker Support – deferred, SLP), in regards to meeting obligations to attend external examinations/assessments done by Designated Doctors or WAA service providers, and instead the requester was yet again referred to an earlier response by MSD dated 24 April 2014. No information was given on ‘sanctions’ and a link to the Work and Income website appeared to lead to little useful information. Altogether sparse information was provided in response to request 7.

With OIA request 8 the requester had asked for information on ‘performance targets’, in regards to clients being referred to, or placed into employment or training, but this was poorly or insufficiently answered. Limited information was provided on staff ‘bonuses’ (none paid), ‘performance payments’ and ‘productivity dividends’, which were no longer being paid. MSD stated there were ‘no performance measures for staff to refer beneficiaries to contracted services’. But it also commented: ‘Work and Income monitors its business indicators’.

In response to request 9 a table was presented by MSD with some useful data on sanctions imposed against certain beneficiaries (Jobseeker Support – Health Condition and Disability and Supported Living Payment recipients) for certain time periods from Sept. 2013 to Dec. 2014. And in response to request 10 the Ministry used section 18(f) of the OIA to refuse information on persons who received a health and disability related benefit, and who had their benefits terminated, as a consequence of fatal self harm, suicide or unexpected early death.

The Ministry presented a poor and useless response to request 11, where the requester had asked for information on advice or expectations that MSD had communicated to medical practitioners and specialists, for them to consider when asking questions to their patients, and when assessing their health conditions and ability to work, as part of completing a Work Capacity Medical Certificate. MSD had been asked whether particular sets of questions had been sent or presented to GPs, whether particular criteria had been communicated, and so forth. Also was the Ministry asked where a ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ could be found. Besides of a very general comment about medical practitioners providing assessments on health conditions and disability, and on ability to undertake suitable employment, a link to the start page of the Work and Income website was presented, telling the requester that “All guidance for medical practitioners on about the Medical Certificate is now provided online at: http://www.workandincome.govt.nz.

But there was more useful information presented in a large table, in response to request 12, showing data on incidents where case managers or other staff at Work and Income had felt threatened, intimidated, or were assaulted by angry clients, during the execution of their duties. The Ministry also explained in brief, how it dealt with such incidences of inappropriate behaviour, and how it placed a high priority on the safety of its staff.

Information on trespass orders and how Work and Income (WINZ) dealt with high risk persons was presented in satisfactory manner in response to request 13. And a ‘Medical Appeals Board, Board Members Information Pack’, dated July 2013, was also provided to the requester.

A scan copy with the authentic, complete written OIA response by MSD to the requester, dated 26 Feb. 2015, in partly redacted form, can be found as a PDF file via these hyperlinks:
MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, WAA, other support services, issues, reply, anon, 26.02.2015
MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, WAA, other support services, reply, anon, hilit, 26.02.15
A scan copy with the authentic earlier OIA response by MSD, to earlier requests, dated 24 April 2014 and partly redacted, can be found via this link:
MSD, O.I.A. reply, C.E., Mental Health Emplmt Serv., Work Ability Assmts, compl., 24.04.14

 

PART 6 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S INITIAL DECISION ON THE ‘DELAY COMPLAINT’, DATED 5 MARCH 2015

It was not long after the information requester had finally received MSD’s response dated 26 Feb. 2015, that the Ombudsman Ron Paterson also wrote to him again. He noted that MSD had sent the requester a response on 26 Feb. 2015. In his letter, dated 5 March 2015, he also informed the complainant that a decision on the information request of 1 Oct. 2014 should have been made by MSD by 30 Nov. 2014. The Ombudsman had formed his final opinion that there had been a “failure to meet the requirements imposed by the OIA” – by MSD. But he also wrote that he considered it “unnecessary” to take any further steps, mentioning that MSD acknowledged its failure, but was aware of its obligations under the OIA.

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of the letter by Ron Paterson, dated 5 March 2015, with some personal information deleted, can be found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, delay + refusal, initial dec., 05.03.2015
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, delay + refusal, initial dec., hi-lit, 05.03.2015

 

PART 7 – THE COMPLAINANT’S FURTHER OIA COMPLAINT TO THE OFFICE OF OMBUDSMEN, DATED 9 MARCH 2015

Upon receiving the Ombudsman’s letter with his final opinion on the ‘delay complaint’, the complainant realised that he needed to present swiftly his concerns about the formal but unsatisfactory response by MSD of 26 Feb. 2015 to the Ombudsman. He considered it necessary that the Ombudsman should further investigate his complaint, which would now need to be changed from being a ‘delay complaint’ to a wider OIA complaint.

In the evening of 9 March 2015 he sent his formal complaint to the Ombudsmen Office by email, carrying the attached full new Ombudsman complaint letter, his request letter to MSD dated 1 Oct. 2014, a copy of MSD’s earlier OIA response to an earlier request, dated 24 April 2014, and a copy of MSD’s recent response, dated 26 Feb. 2015.

The information requester and complainant wrote that he had received a ‘fair amount of the information’ that he had sought, but that some very crucial, expected information that he had requested was not supplied by MSD, without any explanations. He pointed out and expressed his concerns that a number of requests had not been completely and appropriately answered, and that MSD unreasonably refused some other information. He asked the Ombudsman to continue investigating the matter, as MSD failed to provide information that he should have been able to reasonably expect.

So he listed his OIA requests 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 as not having been responded to, that is in part. He also sought some clarifications on apparently unclear responses.

In short, the complainant’s main concerns and issues were:
Request 1: That no on-site addresses were provided for MHES and SPES service providers listed under request 1 (not even raising the issue that little information had been provided on ‘particular services offered’).

Request 2: That no information on ‘outcomes’ or ‘targets’ was provided by MSD on contractual agreements it had with providers, as asked for with request 2.

Request 3: That insufficient information had been provided on ‘wrap around services’ which providers were apparently offering, hence he sought further clarification on whether such services (in clinical form) would actually be provided through accessible public health care services through DHBs or not, in response to request 3. A question was whether any information on such additional support services had been withheld, did not exist or was not ‘centrally held’. Also was there no mention of particular qualifications and types of positions held by provider staff, which could be provided without naming individuals.

Request 4: That statistical data contained in tables provided in response to request 4 needed to be more clarified, i.e. presented in broken down figures, and that information be provided on how many MHES and SPES participants had been successfully referred into employment.

Request 5: That the response now provided to request 5, stating information on the ‘wellbeing’ of persons after being referred to a service provider would not exist (s 18(e)) conflicted with an earlier OIA response from 24 April 2014, and that an explanation and clarification needed to be given by MSD.

Request 6: That no on-site address details had been provided by MSD for WAA service providers, as asked for with request 6. The same issue and concern existed as with request 1.

Request 7: That no information had been provided by MSD in response to request 7 on ‘expectations’ WINZ places on sick and disabled on health related benefits – in regards to meeting obligations to attend external examinations/assessments for medical conditions and work ability. No information was given on what forms of sanctions would be applied by WINZ, hence further clarification was necessary. Also was there no information provided on any plans that may exist to change or increase particular expectations and/or criteria for sick, injured and disabled persons on health related benefits.

Request 8: That no specific performance target information (e.g. on successful referrals of clients into work, training and so forth) had been provided in response to request 8, and that further clarification or a better response was expected, given a senior MSD Director clearly mentioned ‘targets’ existed in a radio interview on Radio NZ.

Request 11: That insufficient and too general information has been presented in response to request 11, which asked for ‘advice’ and ‘expectations’ being communicated to health professionals. The information on the Work and Income website was not covering Advisor to practitioner ‘advice’ and ‘expectations’. Also had no source been provided for the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’.

In his ‘Closing comments’ the information requester and complainant asked the Ombudsman to take up the issues he listed with MSD, to seek appropriate clarifications, and to ensure, that his reasonable requests for specified information were being met. He considered that a thorough investigation was necessary.

A PDF with the authentic text of this further complaint letter by the complainant, partly redacted, and dated 9 March 2015, can be found via this hyperlink:
Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, failure to comply w. O.I.A. rqst fr. 01.10.14, ltr, anon, 09.03.2015

Relevant attachments were also sent with the email carrying the complainant’s letter.

 

PART 8 – THE OMBUDSMEN OFFICE’S CORRESPONDENCE FROM 13 JUNE 2015 TO 21 DEC. 2016 – AND ENDLESS DELAYS IN THE MATTER

After some simple email requests for updates on a number of complaints, dated 25 April 2015 and 17 May 2015, the complainant did on 13 June 2015 receive an email with an update from a ‘Manager Intake and Assessment’ at the Office of Ombudsmen, which was somewhat confusing, due to a number of spelling mistakes and irritating comments. She referred to the complainant’s last email of 17 May.

In her email letter the correct reference number 39xxx4 was wrongly referred to as being a complaint “agasint hte Privacy Commissioner”, while it was actually against MSD. The name of an Investigator, to whom this complaint had been allocated, was mentioned. It appeared though as if the ‘Manager’ was commenting on two complaints, but simply mixed up relevant details about these. The correct complaint “agasint MSD”, as the author of the letter wrote, had according to her been assessed, but was yet to be allocated.

She declined the complainant’s request for that particular complaint to be progressed urgently, and she stated that their Office would not have sufficient investigative resources to do so. It was not considered that the complaint should have priority over other ones at hand. An update was promised if the complaint would not be allocated within six weeks.

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of the Manager’s original email letter, partly redacted for privacy reasons, and dated 13 June 2015, can be found via the following links:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES, etc., refusal, email upd., anon, 13.06.15
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES etc., email update, anon, hi-lit, 13.06.2015

At 15.37h on 31 August 2015 the complainant received another email (from an unnamed sender) from the Ombudsmen Office, which had a letter attached (as PDF file), which was signed by Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly.

In his letter he presented an update on complaint 39xxx4 and informed the complainant that they had undertaken a further assessment of his complaint, which was now due to allocation to an Investigator. But he wrote that “due to the large volumes of complaints” their Office was receiving, “there are delays in progressing some complaints”. He then continued and wrote, that the complaint was “now queued for allocation to an Investigator” in their “Christchurch Investigation and Resolution Team”. He added that the Manager in that Office would contact the complainant, when there would be progress to report.

A PDF file with an authentic scan copy of this letter by Deputy Ombudsman Donnelly, partly anonymised, and dated 31 Aug. 2015, is found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES, etc., assessment, ltr, anon, 31.08.2015
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES etc., assessmt, update, ltr, anon, hi-lit, 31.08.2015

Following no apparent progress in this matter, and further requests by the complainant for an update on this and other complaints, dated or sent 5 and 28 July 2016, the ‘Manager – Investigations and Resolution’ at the Auckland Ombudsmen Office wrote back to him in a letter dated 23 August 2016.

He confirmed the complainant’s presumption that Ombudsman Leo Donnelly had assumed responsibilities for matters previously dealt with by the recently departed, former Ombudsman Ron Paterson.

By referring to file reference 39xxx4 Mr Sxxxxxx admitted that it was “far from ideal”, that only “limited progress” had been made. “However, the Chief Ombudsman is committed to eliminating this backlog”, he wrote.

They were currently developing a plan to progress their aged complaints, he informed the complainant. With specific funding from Parliament they expected to commence this plan from mid August 2016. File 39xxx4 would in future be dealt with from their Wellington Office, he added. The complainant would be updated on further progress “as soon as possible”, Mr Sxxxxxx wrote, and he asked for patience. Some further updates were provided for other complaints by the complainant.

A PDF file containing an authentic scan copy of this letter by the Auckland Manager at the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 23 Aug. 2016, and partly redacted, is found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaints, 39xxx4, and others, update, Auckland Office Manager’s ltr, 23.08.2016
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, and others, update, Auck. Office Mgr, ltr, hi-lit, 23.08.2016

On 21 Dec. 2016 the Manager at the Auckland Office of the Ombudsmen did write once again, providing new updates on a number of complaints, for which the complainant had again asked, apparently by emails sent on 8 and 17 Dec. 2016.

The Manager did again apologise for the delay, and thanked the complainant for his patience.

Re file reference 39xxx4 he informed the complainant that the file was still “queued for allocation to an investigator”. He wrote that the complainant would be informed “if there is any progress to report”. This time a name of a staff member at the Wellington Office was provided, should the complainant have any queries re his complaint. Other updates were given on a few other complaints.

A PDF file with an authentic scan copy of this email letter by the Manager for Investigations and Resolution at the Auckland Ombudsmen Office, partly redacted, dated 21 Dec. 2016, can be found via these hyperlinks:
Ombudsman, complaints, 39xxx4, and others, rqst f. update, Auckland Mgr’s email, 21.12.2016
Ombudsman, complaints, 39xxx4, and others, update, email, Auck. Office Mgr, hi-lit, 21.12.16

So time continued to pass, and the complaint had until the end of 2016 still not even been allocated to an Investigator! In the meantime MSD could relax and continue to withhold sensitive information on MHES and other services, which it had refused, or simply not provided without giving any reasons for this.

 

PART 9 – THE OMBUDSMEN OFFICE’S LATE ANNOUNCEMENT OF 8 MAY 2017 TO INVESTIGATE THE COMPLAINT

Having noted no progress at all with this complaint, and also not with another complaint, the complainant wrote to the Ombudsmen Office again at 15.08h on 5 May 2017, expressing his concern. He mentioned how some newer complaints appeared to now be investigated by the Wellington Office, but that he had not received any further correspondence re complaint 39xxx4 and the other one.

The complainant wrote that the delay with two OIA related complaints against MSD gave him reason to be very concerned. He wrote that there had been “ongoing issues with poor and not delivered OIA responses – provided by MSD”. Further delays in the investigation of aged complaints would mean that: “MSD may not feel urged to improve their responses to OIA requests for specific information that one should be able to expect for reasons of transparency and accountability”.

So he asked for another update on this one (39xxx4) and other complaints. Also did the complainant ask for confirmation, that emails and letters he had sent on 21 May and 25 August 2016 had also been added to this complaint (for consideration).

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of the complainant’s email asking for an update on complaint 39xxx4 and other complaints, partly redacted and dated 5 May 2017, can be found here:
Ombudsman, complaints, 39xxx4, and others, rqst f. update, complainant email, anon, 05.05.17

Well over 2 and a half years after the OIA request had been made to MSD, and well over two years after the filing of the formal complaints with the Office of Ombudsmen, did the complainant finally get some positive news at 11.28h on 8 May 2017.

A ‘Senior Investigator’ by the name of Bxxxxx Xxxxxx informed the complainant that the complaint file 39xxx4 had now been allocated to her to progress. She was working herself through the material on the file, and would contact him again in respect of it “when there is substantive progress to report”. She also provided an update on another complaint.

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of the response by the Senior Investigator at the Ombudsmen Office now handling the complaint, partly redacted and dated 8 May 2017, is found here:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, complt update, investigator email, anon, 08.05.17
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, OIA rqsts, update, investigator email, anon, hi-lit, 08.05.2017

At 13.31h on 16 May 2017 the Senior Investigator then sent the complainant an email with a letter attached that was signed by her, and written on behalf of Ombudsman Leo Donnelly. She informed the complainant that Mr Donnelly would be investigating this complaint. She also wrote that she had written to the Chief Executive of MSD, and asked him to provide them with a report on their decision on the complainant’s OIA request, and to comment on the issues raised by the complainant.

The Investigator noted that not all issues that the complainant had raised in his letter of 9 March 2015 constituted OIA complaints. She listed the various request points that had been accepted as OIA complaints, and which had been notified to MSD. These included issues raised re MSD’s responses to requests 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11. The complainant would be updated on the progress of the investigation, she wrote in closing.

A PDF with a scan copy of the authentic, partly redacted letter by the Senior Investigator, dated 16 May 2017, can be found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, other serv., refusal, invest. ltr, anon, 16.05.17

 

PART 10 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S PROVISIONAL OPINION ON THE COMPLAINT, DATED 24 OCT. 2017

At 20.32h on 20 August 2017 the complainant would send one more email to the Senior Investigator now handling this complaint, asking for a further update on the progress in this matter. He mentioned that the last correspondence he had received was of 16 May 2017.

The Senior Investigator Bxxxxx Xxxxxx wrote back at 9.48h on 21 August, informing him that: “We have made significant progress in addressing the OIA issues raised by this complaint (complaint 39xxx4) – we have been back and forward with the MSD a number of times to ensure that the Ombudsman has all the information he needs to go to a provisional opinion.” “There is just one further enquiry (made last week) about one of the aspects of this (wide-ranging) complaint that we are waiting to hear back from the Ministry about.”

“In respect of the other matter (Dr Bratt’s record-keeping) the Ombudsman will be addressing that issue in his provisional opinion on 39xxx4.”

After another two months the complainant did then finally get a ‘provisional opinion’ on this complaint matter, which was sent to him by email by the same Investigator at 11.07h on 24 Oct. 2017. It was contained in a PDF file and signed by Leo Donnelly, Ombudsman.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged the apologies by his staff for the unacceptable delays in the investigation of the complainant’s complaints. He added his apology for the delays in this case.

He had received and considered the Ministry’s response to the notified complaint matter. He repeated the Investigator’s earlier comments, that not all issues the complainant had raised constituted OIA complaints.

He presented his provisional opinion on each OIA ‘Request’ point, and the following is in brief what Ombudsman Donnelly had formed as his opinion:

Request 1:
He wrote that the Ministry had provided the complainant with a table containing the names and addresses of the SPES, and that the MHES providers’ information had previously been provided to him (on 24 April 2014). The Ombudsman acknowledged that the complainant had asked for on-site service delivery addresses, which had not been provided. He wrote that the Ministry had noted that it may not itself have been provided all the sites’ addresses used by providers. He added that the Ministry noted that the providers have websites which contain physical addresses, which are publicly available.

Ombudsman Donnelly then wrote: “In terms of the OIA, it is my provisional opinion that your request for this information can be refused under section 18(d) on the basis that it is publicly available, and section 18(g) where the Ministry does not actually hold the information.”

Request 2:
Regarding ‘fees payable’ by the Ministry to providers, and ‘outcome expectations’, Mr Donnelly referred the complainant to MSD’s OIA responses of 26 Feb. 2015 (for SPES), and 24 April 2014 (for MHES), which contained tables with fee structures and some other relevant information. He wrote that in response to the notified complaint, raising the issue with no information having been provided on ‘outcome expectations’, MSD had located relevant information and provided it to his Office. Hence he had now asked the Ministry to make that information available to the complainant.

Request 3’:
Regarding the request for ‘wide-ranging’ information about the ‘wrap-around services’, which the complainant had made to MSD, the Ombudsman now referred him again to the Ministry’s responses of 24 April 2014 and 26 Feb. 2015, which contained some asked for information, but also comments that MSD did not hold some particular information.

He wrote: “The Ministry has noted that this information is not collected in the manner you have requested and, referring to section 18(g)(i), it notes the Ministry is not required to create information.” Ombudsman Donnelly added that, upon having made enquiries, he was satisfied that section 18(g) provided the Ministry “with good reason to refuse your request on the basis that the information is not held.”

Request 4’:
Regarding the complainant’s issue with no clear enough information on clients referred to services like SPES and MHES, such as on them having been successfully placed into employment, having been presented by MSD, the Ombudsman referred him to information provided in MSD’s response of 26 Feb. 2015.

He wrote: “The Ministry provided you with details of the number of referrals up to the date of your request, and tables indicating numbers who ceased participation in the MHES and APEs and the reasons why”. Mr Donnelly then asserted: “You complained that information was not provided in the way you had wished and that no information was provided about participants of either service who have been successfully referred into employment”.

He wrote that the Ministry had (in response to the complaint) noted that, while the complainant’s preference may not have been addressed, the information was in fact provided. He accepted the Ministry’s response as “reasonable”.

In respect of information on placements into employment, the Ombudsman wrote, the Ministry had provided him with some ‘manually collated data’. Leo Donnelly wrote: “The Ministry has advised that it is happy to release this information to you. I have asked it to do so now and advise me accordingly when it has sent the information to you.”

Request 6’:
Regarding on-site service delivery addresses for WAA providers, which the complainant had asked MSD for; Mr Donnelly considered that the same position by MSD – as held to ‘Request 1’ – was acceptable. He wrote: “I accept that section 18(d) provides good reason under the OIA to refuse this part of your request on the basis that the information is publicly available”.

Request 7:
Regarding the complainant’s request for information on plans that the Ministry may have to “change or increase particular expectations and/or criteria for sick, injured and disabled persons…to be referred to …work ability assessments”, Mr Donnelly wrote that the Ministry had apologised and acknowledged that they had failed to respond to that particular aspect of his request.

He wrote: “The Ministry has undertaken to now respond to you about this request. I have asked the Ministry to do so and advise me accordingly.”

Request 8:
Regarding the concerns of the complainant re the response by MSD to request 8, Ombudsman Donnelly wrote that: “In response to notification of this aspect of your complaint, the Ministry notes that it has provided you with the information you requested.”

“I have considered your comments and the response provided by the Ministry to your request and to my notification of this complaint. Your complaint essentially seems to rest on what you see as a potential contradiction between the information provided by the Ministry and comments made on a radio programme. However, your comments about the radio programme reflect your interpretation and extrapolation. Under the OIA, my role is to ensure that, where information is held, it is released upon request unless the Act provides good reason to refuse it. It is not part of my investigation and review role to test the overall coherence of information provided from various different sources so that a ‘better response’ (in your words) is provided.”

Mr Donnelly then wrote that he did not consider that he could take this matter any further. In his view the Ministry had clearly answered the complainant’s request for information. He saw no grounds to consider it was withholding relevant official information from the complainant and the Ombudsmen’s Office.

Request 11:
Regarding the request for information on advice and expectations that MSD provided to health professionals when assessing work ability, the Ombudsman noted that the Ministry had referred the complainant to the website http://www.workandincome.govt.nz . He also appeared to acknowledge the complainant’s stated issue that certain forms of communicated advice, guidelines and expectations (e.g. by Regional Health, Regional Disability Advisers, Health and Disability Coordinators and the Principal Health Adviser) were not covered by the more general information on the website.

He then quoted the Ministry’s response to his notified complaint: “[t]he Ministry considers that further advice should have been refused under section 18(f) of the Act as there will not be a centralised repository of ‘advice to doctors’. Mr Xxxxxx requested ‘information on the advice, not the advice itself, and has been provided with this.”

Apparently accepting the Ministry’s comments as such, the Ombudsman wrote:
“In the absence of a central repository of ‘advice to doctors’ I accept that section 18(f) provides the Ministry with good reason to refuse the communications you refer to on the basis that the information cannot be made available without substantial collation and research. Privacy and confidentiality considerations may also be relevant. If there is a particular communication you are able to identify with due particularity I suggest you make a specific request for it.”

The Ombudsman concluded his provisional opinion with stating under ‘Resolution and my provisional opinion’:
“The issues discussed above in respect of Requests 2, 4 and 7 have been resolved by the Ministry’s agreement to release to you the further information it has provided to this Office. In my provisional opinion, for the reasons set out above, the Ministry was entitled to refuse your request for the information I have discussed in respect of Requests 1, 3, 6 and 11.”

Mr Donnelly invited the complainant to comment on his provisional opinion in respect of Requests 1, 3, 6 and 11 by 14 Nov. 2017, before he would form his final opinion.

He also made further comments in relation to ‘Record keeping by Dr Bratt’:
“In respect of your comments about Dr Bratt’s record keeping, I have read and carefully considered your comments of 21 May 2016 (resent on 25 August 2016). You have raised concerns about Dr Bratt ‘continually misrepresenting statistical and scientific information’ (and other concerns about Dr Bratt’s professional competency) as a response to Professor Paterson’s finding that you had an insufficient personal interest in the issue of Dr Bratt’s record-keeping. Moreover, concerns about Dr Bratt’s professional standards would most appropriately be addressed by his professional body, not by a layperson, such as myself.”

Hence, for the same reasons previously given by the former, long resigned Ombudsman Prof. Ron Paterson, Mr Donnelly did not propose to investigate the complainant’s complaint about Dr Bratt’s record-keeping.

A PDF file with an authentic scan copy, partly redacted, of the provisional opinion of Ombudsman Donnelly, dated 24 Oct. 2017, is found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, refusal, prov. opinion, anon, 24.10.2017
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, refusal, prov. dec., anon, hi-lit, 24.10.2017

 

PART 11 – THE COMPLAINANT’S FORMAL RESPONSE TO THE ‘PROVISIONAL OPINION’, DATED 28 OCT. 2017, INSISTING THAT MORE INFORMATION BE MADE AVAILABLE

The complainant was not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s ‘provisional opinion’ on this complaint matter, i.e. on some particular issues he had raised re parts of the OIA responses by MSD. While he had achieved a partial success in getting the Ombudsman advise MSD to release some further information in response to request points 2, 4 and 7, other important information remained to be withheld, or was claimed to not even exist.

Hence the complainant prepared a formal response to the Ombudsman’s letter of 24 October 2017, presenting his remaining concerns and further comments, intended to convince the Ombudsman that MSD should not be allowed to continue withholding certain information.

In a letter dated 28 October the complainant accepted the apologies for the delays in the processing of his complaint, that had been provided by the Ombudsman, as he considered the at times very difficult circumstances their Office had been in. Upon summarising the previous correspondence, and the Ombudsman’s recent provisional opinion, the complainant did then address a number of issues or aspects that he considered as not having been resolved. He also wrote that he had up to that day not received any further information from MSD in response to his information requests, which would go beyond of what he received 26 Feb. 2015.

He wrote (page 2): “In my response to your provisional opinion I wish to make some further comments in relation to aspects of my complaint about MSD’s responses to my original information requests 1, 3, 6, 8 and 11, that is after having read your various considerations and formed opinion, and also in regards to your advice on Dr Bratt and his repeated misrepresentation of statistical and scientific reports, which includes his ‘record keeping’ on such matters.”

“I will deal with each of these complaint aspects and your corresponding provisional views request by request, or point by point. Firstly though, I wish to mention, that I have up to this day not received any further information from MSD in response to my information requests, which goes beyond of what the Ministry had initially made available on 26 Feb. 2015.”

The complainant raised the following points at issue under the corresponding headings:

‘Request 1 – your provisional opinion – my further comments’

As he had asked for “on site service provider addresses, and the particular services offered”, he considered that MSD had to provide that information.

He wrote: “given the fact that NO website links were provided with the original information response by MSD, it is unreasonable to expect me as a requester to go and search for any website information, in the absence of any references being made to such in the original information response.”

“When a requester is either unaware that such websites exist, or when a requester does not find the particular information he was looking for on a website he may find, then the Ministry cannot simply expect such a person to consider the information is publicly available. The very least one can expect in a case where the information is publicly available, is that the Ministry does then point this out, in its response, which did not happen in this case.”

The complainant wrote that individual WINZ offices would hold information on SPES and MHES providers’ on-site service delivery addresses, as they would regularly refer clients to them. Hence he commented: “Therefore I will not accept that the Ministry could reasonably refuse the information requested – according to section 18(g) of the OIA.”

He added the following further comments:
“Last not least, I note, that the Ministry did in its response of 26 Feb. 2015 not follow its obligation to inform me pursuant to section 19 OIA that the information was publicly available, as it now claims in reliance on the provisions in section 18(d) OIA. Nor did it do the same in respect of a refusal now argued as justified pursuant to section 18(g). No way how this may be attempted to be explained away, the Ministry was in breach of the OIA. I will provide some further comments re the above stated issues under ‘Request 6’, further below.”

‘Request 3 – your provisional opinion – my further comments’

The complainant quoted the Ombudsman’s comments from his provisional opinion, where he also wrote the following: “The Ministry has noted that this information is not collected in the manner you have requested and, referring to section 18(g)(i), it notes the Ministry is not required to create information.” He noted that the Ombudsman had made enquiries with the Ministry on this aspect of his complaint, and that he was apparently satisfied that section 18(g) in the OIA gave the Ministry ‘good reason’ to refuse the complainant’s request.

While noting the above comments by the Ombudsman, the complainant wrote that MSD had not given a clearer statement as to whether “wrap around services” in a more clinical form of health support were indeed simply provided as part of the ordinary, accessible public health care services presently available through District Health Boards. He had earlier asked for this, and he would still expect such a statement, he wrote. Also did he still expect some information (examples) of the types of such services that were being provided, he added.

While the complainant expected the mentioned information to be clarified, he did reluctantly accept that there was little point in taking the other remaining matter about contracted service providers’ staff qualifications any further, although he had his doubts about the explanations given by MSD in response to request 3, as communicated by the Ombudsman.

‘Request 6 – your provisional opinion – my further comments’

In response to the Ombudsman’s comments in relation to ‘Request 6’ and issues raised earlier by the complainant in respect of MSD’s response, the complainant wrote the following:
“Again, I will here also refer to my comments that I have already provided in relation to ‘Request 1 – your provisional opinion – my further comments’, see further above. I will refrain from repeating those particular considerations, which are the same in respect to this request.”

The complainant wrote also that there was no website to be found in May 2014 for one provider, ‘ECS Connections’ in Taranaki, and that other websites gave inconclusive “confusing” information as to where their on-site service delivery addresses were.

He wrote:
“I again ask you to consider, that MSD never provided any website addresses or links to such in the information provided in the first place, nor did it mention that the on-site addresses could be found on websites, hence it seems unreasonable, to later tell people, that the information is publicly available, even when in some cases it evidently is not so. It seems unreasonable to tell people who request such specified information to spend hours or days doing online searches, whether they have access to a functioning computer and internet, or not. If MSD is so certain that the information is publicly available, it should have pointed this out in the first place, and provided some information on how it may be accessed.”

He commented that in his view the individual WINZ Offices, or the Regional Offices, would have the on-site service delivery addresses of providers on record, as they would refer clients there. Hence the Ministry should still make the information available.

The complainant also wrote: “Last not least, I again note, the Ministry did in its response of 26 Feb. 2015 not inform me as per section 19 OIA, that the information would be publicly available, and that it had refused the information pursuant to section 18(d). In its response dated 24 April 2014 the Ministry only used section 18(g) to refuse information on providers’ staff roles and qualifications.”

‘Request 8 – your opinion, which appears to be ‘final’ – my further comments’

Although the Ombudsman had not invited further comments by the complainant on his opinion on ‘Request 8’ and MSD’s response to it, the complainant saw a need to express his remaining concerns on this OIA request point and the not accepted position by MSD.

He quoted his original full request, and that he wrote the following in his complaint letter of 9 March 2015:
“My request for the specified official information has in this case also not been fully met. I did not only ask for information on “bonuses” to staff, “additional leave in recognition of service”, or similar “performance measures”, but firstly for specific performance targets (e.g. successful referrals of clients into work, training and so forth), which may not be linked to any such “rewards”. Performance targets may be set for branches without bonuses and the likes being paid, simply as part of ordinary operational performance expectations, for all staff working with clients. There must be certain goals and targets that MSD sets itself and their staff, to achieve annually.”

He again also referred to a radio interview on Radio NZ on 15 April 2014, where MSD’s Director for Welfare Reform, Sandra Kirikiri, answered questions by Kathryn Ryan.

The complainant quoted what MSD wrote in their response of 26 Feb. 2015, and what Ombudsman Donnelly wrote in his provisional opinion. He then presented his response to this and his further comments on this aspect of his complaint:
“While I acknowledge your position on this aspect, I am concerned that the Ministry continues to insufficiently address the contradictions I observed. I also note that since that interview, Ms Kirikiri and other senior staff of MSD have not accepted invitations to media interviews to offer further comments on the MHES trials and similar programs, as has repeatedly been confirmed in programs by Kathryn Ryan, John Campbell and others at Radio New Zealand.”

“While this may be a matter where I have interpreted comments by Ms Kirikiri in a way, that may not quite correspond with the actual approaches and policies followed by MSD and WINZ, it would have assisted me and the public, if MSD had provided more clarity and answered to questions put to them, not only by me, but by others, including the media. Hence I remain unconvinced and disappointed by the response provided by MSD and that you consider that you cannot take this matter any further.”

‘Request 11 – your provisional opinion – my further comments’

In respect of ‘Request 11’, his stated issues and the Ombudsman’s provisional opinion, the complainant did firstly again quote the original OIA request. He also quoted from his complaint relating to MSD’s response on this aspect, dated 9 March 2015. He furthermore quoted MSD’s further comments and what Mr Donnelly wrote in his ‘provisional opinion’.

The complainant then presented his further comments on this complaint aspect and on Mr Donnelly’s provisional opinion.

He wrote the following:
“From your response with your provisional opinion, I understand that the Ministry has chosen to now be very ‘particular’ with interpreting my original request. Hence it has now chosen to refuse information by using section 18(f) of the OIA, after having taken a slightly different approach in their original information response of 26 Feb. 2015. In short, the responses provided by MSD are in my view nothing but an attempt of obfuscation.”

He added: “The Work and Income website is a site with endless pages and substantial information, but while some information is generously provided, other information is hard to find, or cannot be found at all. I have repeatedly visited the WINZ website and made searches for the particular information I asked MSD about, and I made the OIA request, for the very reason that I COULD NOT find on the website, what I asked for.”

The complainant expressed his concern about the Ombudsman’s acceptance of MSD’s responses and the further comments it provided to his Office. He wrote that he had earlier received a copy of the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ upon an OIA request on 24 March 2011. Commenting on ‘advice’ the Ministry provides to medical practitioners, he wrote: “The ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ is one such main document, that used to exist, and which was provided to medical practitioners working as Designated Doctors for the Ministry, to offer guidance on how to complete ‘Work Capacity Medical Certificates’ and how to examine and assess clients for WINZ purposes.”

He wrote that it could not be found on the Work and Income website, same as other information, and that no information had been provided on where it could be found. He also wrote that he would not accept the following comments by MSD:
“I do also not accept the Ministry’s new response to you, stating: “Mr Xxxxxx requested ‘information’ on the advice, not the advice itself, and has been provided with this.””

The complainant and information requester wrote that he did not accept that MSD could use section 18(f) OIA to refuse the information he had sought.

He added the following to his concerns:
“As for the ‘centralised repository’, I suggest you consider that such information may be kept in the office of Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor to the Ministry, as he is responsible for this particular area of work. His Office is not one scattered all over the various WINZ Offices, any advice, guidelines and expectations get communicated from his Office to others within MSD and WINZ. Section 18(f) OIA is therefore not accepted as a reasonable, acceptable reason for refusal, which was again not even mentioned in the original OIA response of 26 Feb. 2015, as I note. So again, the Ministry was in breach of section 19 OIA.”

Your comments on ‘Record keeping by Dr Bratt’ – my further comments

The complainant wrote, besides of other comments he made:
“While I acknowledge your formed opinion with some disappointment, I must inform you that Dr Bratt’s professional body, being the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ), does not have any responsibility for Dr Bratt’s work as Principal Health Advisor for MSD. Dr Bratt was appointed under the provisions of the State Sector Act 1988, and is therefore working in a specialist advisory role in the public service, not as a practicing doctor, providing health care.”

“Former Chief Executive Mr Peter Hughes, when responding to an OIA request I made on 29 Dec. 2010, clarified the following in his response letter dated 24 March 20112. On page 3 he wrote in response to my request 12:
“The Chief Executive has the authority under the State Sector Act 1988 to delegate functions to appropriate staff and has the duty to act independently in relation to staff matters. The roles of Ministry staff members listed in question 12 are therefore not specified in the Social Security Act 1964.””

“It is indeed the ‘State Sector Act 1988’, and in it section 41 that covers the delegation of functions and powers by a Chief Executive to employees. Hence Dr David Bratt appears to have been appointed under that legislation, as a specially appointed Principal Health Advisor (PHA) to work for MSD and WINZ in the public service.”

He then explained the following – in some detail:
“Therefore, the MCNZ is – under the HPCA – only responsible for activities of registered members in the area of providing ‘practice of medicine’, i.e. medical treatment, not for activities such as being a consultant for other agencies, like for instance MSD, WINZ or ACC – in the public service, or alternatively in the private sector.”

“It would therefore be a waste of time for me to try and consult the MCNZ on Dr Bratt’s activities as a Principal Health Advisor for MSD, as he does in that role not ‘practice medicine’. From a legal point of view, his role is that of an Advisor, albeit on health matters, but he cannot be held accountable under the HPCA for anything he may say or do in a purely advisory role, where he is not involved in providing treatment to patients.”

And by referring to emails he sent 21 May 2016, and which he later resent, he explained again, how a report found on the New Zealand Medical Journal, by Gordon Purdie, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago in Wellington, dated 20 Nov. 2015, showed how MSD’s Principal Health Advisor relied on incorrect statistical information while trying to influence medical professionals who made decisions on WINZ clients with health issues.

He also wrote that he disagreed with Prof. Paterson’s decision that he lacked interest in Dr Bratt’s conduct as PHA (Principal Health Advisor) for MSD. He wrote the following: “At any time I may be expected to undergo a medical examination under the Social Security Act 1964, which could be conducted by a Designated Doctor or a GP or other professional, who may have accepted misrepresented ‘evidence’ by Dr Bratt, and who could then make a decision based on flawed, inappropriately interpreted, unreliable ‘evidence’.”

So under his ‘Closing comments’ the complainant asked the Ombudsman to reconsider his provisional opinion, or at least in part, after considering his further comments and evidence.

Attached to an email carrying his response letter, he sent 3 PDFs with relevant correspondence and information to consider.

A PDF file with the authentic text of the reply letter by the complainant, partly redacted and dated 28 Oct. 2017, is found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA inform. refusal, prov. opinion, reply, anon, 28.10.2017

 

PART 12 – THE OMBUDSMAN’S FINAL OPINION, DATED 14 NOV. 2017, IGNORING MOST OF THE APPEALS BY THE COMPLAINANT

At 10.44h on 14 Nov. 2017 the complainant got another email from an unnamed sender at the Office of Ombudsmen, attached was the ‘final opinion’ of Ombudsman Leo Donnelly, which was again somewhat disappointing. It was a brief letter, only about one and a half pages long, and it appeared to the complainant, that the Ombudsman had already decided to maintain his ‘provisional opinion’ and simply turn it into his final one, no matter what new comments and information the complainant would present in reply to the ‘provisional’ one.

He listed each point separately that he considered worthy responding to, and commented the following:

“Request One – on-site service provider addresses.”

“You note that no website links were provided by the Ministry and that you do not accept section 18(d) and 18(g) are applicable.

I note that the Ministry did provide you with the providers’ addresses and that you have in fact accessed the on-site delivery address information on-line.

I confirm my final opinion is that the Ministry’s refusal is justified. I will, however, note your point to the Ministry that you were not referred to the existence of websites, nor provided with links (and that this would have been a more helpful response). “

“Request 3 – ‘wrap-around services’”

“You note you would have expected a ‘clearer statement’ from the Ministry in response to this request.

An agency is not required to create information to respond to an OIA request and my role under the OIA is to ensure that, where information is held, it is released upon request unless there is good reason under the OIA to withhold it.

Your comments that the Ministry has not ‘sufficiently clarified’ the position to your satisfaction are not concerns that I can take further under the OIA.”

“Request 6- on-site services delivery addresses.”

“You have noted that some of the providers do not have websites or have websites that are not helpful, although it appears that your last checks may have been some time ago. In respect of the websites, I will, again, note to the Ministry that it would have been more helpful for the Ministry to refer you to the existence of websites (and provided links, where possible).

I do not propose to take this issue further. If there is a specific provider, whose on-site delivery address you have been unable to access through your online-searches, then I suggest you make a specific request for this information, noting that you have been unable to access it on-line.”

“Request 11- Advice or expectations the Ministry had provided to health professionals”

“I note the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ was being considered as one aspect of your complaint in case No. 44xxx8 and I understand the Ministry has now released that document to you.”

“Record keeping by Dr Bratt”

“Your comments are noted. I am still of the view that your personal interest in Dr Bratt’s record-keeping is insufficient.”

Final opinion.”

“I now confirm as final the opinions expressed in my letter of 24 October 2017. I have concluded my investigation and review. I will close the file once I have had confirmation from the Ministry that they have released the information discussed in respect of requests 2, 4 and 7.”

Author’s own comments

So much for a ‘final opinion’ by the Ombudsman Leo Donnelly. In summary, one can see that Mr Donnelly took a rather conservative approach when ‘investigating’ this complaint. He appeared to give MSD the benefit of the doubt, when it came to their limited information releases, their further comments and explanations in response to the ‘notified complaint’. He made totally clear, that he was very unwilling, to conduct any further communications in this complaint matter. All he was waiting for was for MSD to release to the complainant and information requester that extra bit of information in response to OIA requests 2, 4 and 7.

Mr Donnelly did not even mention the fact that MSD had from the start with their first formal information release of 26 Feb. 2015 failed to mention any good reasons why certain information was not provided, or was only provided in part. No reasons had been given for this, when it came to some requests, despite of the clear requirement under section 19 OIA. For instance the existence of address information on websites was never even mentioned in the Ministry’s first response, yet in absence of any references to the existence of websites of providers, MSD later claimed they had ‘good reason’ to refuse the information under section 18(d), as it was ‘publicly available’. That was done in retrospect though, and the Ombudsman did not even bother raising this with MSD, apart from finally noting it would be ‘more helpful’, where possible, to offer references to the existence of websites or their links. In other cases former refusal reasons were suddenly changed, in response to the ‘notified complaint’.

Various bits of other requested information remained to be withheld, as the Ombudsman rather believed and relied on the explanations and responses provided to him by MSD. For instance in that earlier mentioned Radio NZ interview in April 2014 the Ministry’s Manager for Welfare Reform firmly stated there were targets in the context of referring clients with health conditions and so to providers, and to them being placed into employment, but MSD later contradicted this. Contradictions remained, and the Ombudsman simply believed MSD.

NO serious enough consideration appears to have been given to the repeatedly mentioned issues with Dr Bratt and the ‘advice’ and ‘expectations’ he had as MSD’s ‘Principal Health Advisor’ (PHA) communicated to medical and health professionals for a fair few years. MSD was allowed to water down that aspect of the complaint, by claiming the information was not held in a ‘centralised repository’. But they would not need to look any further than Dr Bratt’s Office, to find such a ‘repository’ full with ‘advice’ he repeatedly shared in presentations. One only needs to look at Dr Bratt’s at times bizarre, clearly misleading ‘presentations’, to detect a clear bias. The fact that MSD have supported him as PHA since 2007, and kept him in his senior role, that speaks volumes about how much – or rather little – MSD is committed to true accountability, transparency and adherence to science and backed up evidence.

So once again Ombudsman Leo Donnelly decided against launching an investigation into Dr Bratt’s past conduct as PHA for MSD and WINZ (e.g. his deletion of all email records of his consultations with an external UK based ‘expert’), despite of compelling evidence of Dr Bratt acting unprofessionally and unethically. Mr Donnelly rather relied on former Ombudsman Ron Paterson’s view that the complainant had insufficient personal interest in Dr Bratt’s record-keeping. This was despite of him having the ability under section 13(3) Ombudsmen Act 1975 to make an investigation either on a complaint by a person, or of his own motion.

What does this tell us about our Ombudsman, in this case? ‘Fairness for All’ is the Office’s slogan, it does sound nice, but the reality some complainants face puts this into question.

A PDF file with the authentic scan copy of the Ombudsman’s final opinion on the matter, partly redacted and dated 14 Nov. 2017, is found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, etc., fin. opinion, 14.11.2017
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES, etc., refusal, final opinion, hi-lit, 14.11.2017

 

PART 13 – THE COMPLAINANT’S REMAINING CONCERNS AND THE OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATOR’S EMAIL OF 16 NOV. 2017, CONFIRMING THE FILE WILL BE CLOSED

Rather concerned about the Ombudsman’s position, in not taking up his remaining concerns with MSD, the complainant did on 16 Nov. 2017 write once again to the Office of Ombudsmen.

The complainant’s final email and letter dated 16 Nov. 2017

At just after midday on 16 Nov. 2017 he sent another email with a letter of that same date to Ombudsman Donnelly and Investigator Bxxxxx Xxxxxx. After thanking the Ombudsman for his final opinion, he wrote with regret that the complaint matter was still not fully resolved. Some matters appeared to have been overlooked, he wrote, and the further information that the Ministry was supposed to send him, this had not been received. He referred to the Ombudsman’s provisional opinion of 24 October 2017, where he had written that MSD had agreed to send further information in response to OIA requests 2, 4 and 7.

He then presented an overlooked aspect of his remaining concerns, and he clarified that he had expected of the Ombudsman, that he would have advised MSD that they should have a responsibility to point out that certain information was publicly available. He quoted from his responses to the Ombudsman’s provisional opinion, in relation to information ‘Request 1’ and ‘Request 6’. He made a reference to the OIA section 19A, which requires that a reason for a refusal of information must be given. He considered this to be an obligation. Mentioning the other, different refusal grounds stated and used by MSD, the complainant expressed his view that: MSD had a responsibility to point out, that the information was publicly available, in their response to me, dated 26 February 2015. He added that MSD: must be advised that they must in future do so, as that is what the law requires them to do in such circumstances”. While the Ombudsman had considered it may be ‘helpful’ for the Ministry to refer to websites that existed for providers, the complainant was of the view, such advice was not sufficient.

The complainant also wrote that MSD had up to that day (16 Nov. 2017) still not provided the remaining information that the Ombudsman had mentioned they would release in response to his earlier OIA requests 2, 4 and 7. The only additional information which he had so far received was an out of date Guide for Designated Doctors manual from 2008, sent to him by a person called ‘Mxxx’ on 8 Nov. 2017.

The complainant hoped that this information would not be forgotten, and that MSD would provide it to him soon. He closed off his letter with the following comments: “While I remain disappointed about your continued refusal to look deeper into the conduct of Dr David Bratt, I do hope, that this file will not be closed until the above has been resolved.”

The Senior Investigator’s email response to the complainant, of that same day

At 15.25h on 16 November 2017, Senior Investigator Bxxxxx Xxxxxx wrote back to the complainant, merely commenting the following:

“Your letter has been received and noted and placed on the file. The Ombudsman has completed his investigation of this complaint on the basis discussed in his letter of 14 November. The file will be closed once the Ministry advise this Office they have released the information discussed in respect of Requests 2, 4 and 7.”

So much for a reply, this was short and blunt, and signalled to the complainant, that his remaining concerns were of little interest or concern to the Senior Investigator and Ombudsman Donnelly. This apparent bit of disregard for complainants, who may go the extra mile in trying to get an appropriate and acceptable resolution to complaint matters, was though nothing new to the complainant. He had experienced a similar treatment before, when receiving some other ‘final opinions’ on complaints, especially from former Ombudsman Beverley Wakem, who even refused to review the conduct of a staff member, who had apparently misinterpreted or even misrepresented facts. Certain holders of high Offices seem to have a dim view of ordinary persons making repeated complaints, and insisting on attention to detail, on correctness and fairness in complaint processing and resolution. Once again, ‘Fairness for All’, the slogan used by the Ombudsmen, rang hollow.

A PDF file with the authentic response letter by the complainant, to the ‘final opinion’ of Ombudsman Donnelly, dated 16 Nov. 2017, can be found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, MHES, etc., refusal, complainant ltr, anon, 16.11.2017

A PDF file containing the authentic scan copies of the Investigator’s final email response, and the complainant’s earlier email, partly redacted, both of 16 Nov. 2017, can be found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, etc., refusal, email reply, anon, 16.11.17
Ombudsman, complaint, 39xxx4, MSD, OIA rqsts, inform. refusal, investigtr email, hi-lit, 16.11.17
A PDF containing the received Guide for Designated Doctors, which MSD sent the complainant on 8 Nov. 2017, can be found via this link:
WDB6 Guide for designated doctors_FINAL

 

PART 14 – MSD’S FURTHER INFORMATION RELEASE OF 22 NOV. 2017, SHOWING HOW MHES TRIALS WERE A FAILURE

After nearly another week the complainant would finally get the further information that MSD had agreed to release to him, upon the intervention of Ombudsman Donnelly, in ‘resolving’ complaint 39xxx4. With a letter dated 22 Nov. 2017 MSD provided the additional information in response to Requests 2, 4 and 7, which was about three years after the information should have reasonably been expected and received by the complainant.

The following information was the ‘further’ response now provided to him:

“Dear Mr Xxxxxx

I write further to your Official Information Act request of 1 October 2014, requesting information from the Ministry of Social Development (The Ministry) about services to beneficiaries.

After consultation with the Office of the Ombudsman, the Ministry is now providing further information in response to your request.”

“You asked for information about ‘outcome expectations’.
Below are the outcome expectations:

The Mental Health Employment Service (MHES)
As a result of their participation in the Service:
● 50% of clients will be expected to have been placed into employment that aligns with their work obligations; of whom
● 80% will be expected to have remained in employment, aligning with their initial work obligations, for a period of twelve (12) months.

The Sole Parent Employment Service (SPES)
As a result of their participation in the Service:
● 52% of clients will be expected to have been placed into employment that aligns with their work obligations; of whom
● 80 % will be expected to have remained in employment, aligning with their initial work obligations, for a period of twelve (12) months.”

“You requested numbers about how many beneficiaries referred to MHES and SPES ‘have been successfully referred to employment’.

The data below is provided based on the reporting information from the MHES and SPES Providers. This has not been checked against Work and Income systems. The data reflects the actual ‘enrolments’ in service and ‘actual outcomes’ as reported by providers through the reporting tool known as Service Outcome Reporting Tool. The data is provided for the period August 2013-June 2015 and has been manually collated from provider reporting. The outcomes recorded are for those placed into employment only and not for those achieving the 6 or 12 month outcome within the period.”
……………….

Note by author:
For the actual data in the provided tables, please load the authentic scan copy of the response by ‘the Ministry’ (MSD) dated 22 Nov. 2017, which can be found via this link:
MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, WAA, other services, 01.10.14, further info release, anon, 22.11.2017

Continuation of ‘further response’:

“You also requested:
‘what: plans exist to change or increase particular expectations and/ or criteria for sick, injured and disabled persons to be referred to work ability assessments’.

The Ministry did not have any plans to change the Workability assessments or the expectations at the time.”

“I trust this information is helpful.

Kind regards

Mxxx

Ombudsman and Privacy Complaint Services
Ministry of Social Development ……..”

Author’s own comments:

So here we have it, besides of the also useful information about ‘outcome expectations’ that MSD had for those MHES and SPES trials, being delivered by contracted Providers, we now have the first real figures for enrolments and employment outcomes for them. Although the information does not specify for how long such employment placements of participating Work and Income clients may have lasted, it is at least an indicator of how many were at least put into any form of presumably ‘suitable’ employment.

Often less than half of the numbers of persons newly enrolled for the MHES were eventually placed into a form of employment, as the tables show. Sometimes the figures were worse, at times a little better. Overall, job placements did not match enrolments, far from it. There appears to have been no significant improvement over time. We do not know though, how much was paid in fees to the providers, and whether the whole exercise was economical for them. If targets may not have been met, some fees will not have been paid.

It is no wonder then, that MSD and the then government ditched these trials and since then started new ones, such as Work to Wellness, which may fare little better in the end.

The figures are clearly not that encouraging, they are disappointing for MHES, and a bit less disappointing for SPES. This data had been withheld by MSD for years, and in the meantime there has also been another report released, which admits that the MHES trials did not deliver what they were initially expected to deliver.

Here is a link to a PDF containing MSD’s report Effectiveness Of Contracted Case Management Services On Off Benefit Outcomes: Mid-Trial Report, of mid or late 2015:
MSD, OIA Release, Mid Trial Evaluation Report on MHES and SPES Trials, mid 2015

On page 7 in that document (page ‘3’ it says on the page itself) it does for instance reveal the following:
“Duration in contracted services

One important reason for the absence of an impact from MHES is the relatively short time the treatment group spend on the service. We found a high dropout rate for the treatment group. For MHES, 48% of referred clients ended the services within 8 weeks after starting. For the SPES the proportion was 35% (refer Figure 5).”

But that report also concedes that there may well be some flaws with the ‘evaluation’, as can be seen by reading the text under ‘2.6 Participants excluded from this analysis’, on PDF page 12. The ‘Appendix’ on the last page only gives some information on referrals and participation in the trials, but no information on job placements.

Again, for the authentic scan copy of the full further information response by MSD to the requester’s OIA request of 1 October 2014, dated 22 Nov. 2017, please click this hyperlink to load a PDF that contains it:
MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, WAA, other services, 01.10.14, further info release, anon, 22.11.2017
MSD, OIA rqst, MHES, SPES, WAA, other services, 01.10.14, further rel., hi-lit, anon, 22.11.17

So it took MSD three years to provide some crucial and important data, which the requester had initially asked for, and only with the assistance of the Ombudsman was some of it finally released under the OIA. By now, the information is somewhat irrelevant, as MSD and the government have moved on, and quietly abandoned MHES.

 

PART 15 – CONCLUSION: THE OMBUDSMAN LARGELY LETS OFF MSD ON MATTERS OF SERIOUS CONCERN, AND TAKES NO FURTHER ACTION DESPITE OF SIGNIFICANT OIA BREACHES

From the above quoted correspondence and the way this complaint has been treated and handled by the Office of Ombudsmen, it is blatantly obvious, that Ombudsman Donnelly, or shall we rather say his Senior Investigator, ‘investigated’ the complaint in a rather superficial, apparently rushed manner. This happened in mid to late 2017, after a two year delay in progressing with the complaint, which was left on a pile of ‘aged complaint files’ as probably being too difficult or complex to bother with. That of course was also due to the years of under-funding of the Office of Ombudsmen, which even former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem lamented about in the Office’s Annual Reports and some media reports.

We may also refer you to two other useful, interesting and revealing posts in that regard, found via these hyper-links:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/the-new-zealand-ombudsman-underfunded-and-compromised-the-auditor-general-sees-no-need-for-action/
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/the-new-zealand-ombudsman-fairness-for-all-an-empty-slogan-for-some/

Complaints Outcome by Request

We need to look at the partly unsatisfactory outcome of this complaint by again looking at each ‘Request’ made under the OIA on 1 Oct. 2014. It is obvious that MSD did in its original formal and ‘final’ response of 26 Feb. 2015 fail to give refusal grounds for some information that was never presented to the requester, and re some ‘Requests’ the initial refusal grounds were somewhat different to what the Ombudsman would finally accept as ‘good reasons’ and ‘reasonable’ in his ‘provisional’ and ‘final opinion’.

It is also disturbing that the Ombudsman saw no need to remind MSD of the requirements it had under section 19 OIA, to give reasons for refusing information, and that he thus let the Ministry off the hook, so to say, somewhat lightly.

One would have expected the Ombudsman to be firmer on MSD, in holding the Ministry to account for failing to provide the actually available information on Requests 2, 4 and 7, and for not presenting any information such as the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’. But under section 22 of the Ombudsmen Act 1975 the Ombudsman has only limited powers to prepare and release reports upon investigations, to make recommendations and give advice. No agency is bound to follow such recommendations or advice, although refusing to do so may lead to some loss of reputation in the wider public, and it may result in the Ombudsman sending a further report to a Minister and/or the Prime Minister.

In any case, here we have a brief look again, at how the Ombudsman dealt with the complaint issues or aspects on a point by point, or request by request basis:

Request 1
In their response of 26 Feb. 2015 MSD only provided ‘head office’ addresses for SPES providers and for the same for MHES referred to its earlier OIA response of 24 April 2014. No reason was given for refusing the on site provider addresses and also was little information provided on the particular services offered. NO reference was made to the existence of websites with such information. Upon ‘investigating’ the complaint, dated 9 March 2015, the Ombudsman did in his provisional opinion of 24 Oct. 2017 simply accept MSD’s new position that the Ministry “may not itself have been provided ‘with all sites’ addresses”. He only then formed his view that the information asked for “can be refused under section 18(d) on the basis that it is publicly available, and section 18(g) where the Ministry does not actually hold the information.” He made no mention that under section 19 OIA there was a requirement by MSD to give the requester a reason for not providing certain information, which it had not done with its former response.

In his response of 28 Oct. 2017 the complainant reminded Ombudsman Donnelly, that he had clearly also asked for “on site service provider addresses and the particular services offered”. He wrote that he had only been provided hard copies with tables containing the head office address information, and hence it was ‘unreasonable’ for him to be expected to go and search for website information, in the absence of references made to them. MSD had not pointed out the information was publicly available, he wrote. He rejected refusal ground 18(g) OIA, as WINZ would know the on site addresses due to referring clients there, and he commented that no refusal ground had been given, as required under section 19 OIA. All the Ombudsman commented in his final opinion of 14 Nov. 2017 was that the complainant had been able to access the online information after having been provided the (head office) addresses. Astonishingly the Ombudsman maintained his view that MSD’s refusal was ‘justified’. At least he noted the complainant’s point that he had not been referred to the existence of websites, nor provided with links, which may have been ‘more helpful’.

Request 2
In MSD’s response of 26 Feb. 2015 the requester received the ‘fee structure’ information for SPES providers, and referred to its earlier response of 24 April 2014 for the same information for MHES providers. No information was given on ‘outcome expectations’ that MSD had from the providers of both services. Hence in his letter of 9 March 2015 the complainant had asked that ‘outcome’ or ‘target’ information be presented by MSD. The Ombudsman wrote in his provisional opinion that “the Ministry has located relevant information about ‘outcome expectations’ and provided it to this Office.” He wrote that he had asked MSD to make that information available, which appears to be an acceptable outcome. It was later provided in acceptable form by way of a letter from MSD dated 22 Nov. 2017 (see PART 14 for details).

Request 3
In its initial response of 26 Feb. 2015 MSD provided a brief description of the MHES and how it “provides employment-related case management, placement and post placement support to assist participants to gain and maintain employment”. MSD would not centrally hold information on clinical services accessed through the service providers, they wrote. Hence that request was refused pursuant to section 18(g) of the OIA, same as information on providers’ staff roles and qualifications. The complainant presumed in his letter of 9 March 2015 that ‘wrap around services’ in the form of ‘mental health support’ would be provided through providers and that this was covered by the contract with MSD. He asked whether that information was being withheld, or does not exist, or was also not “centrally held”. He also believed that service providers’ staff would need to have minimum qualifications, which he expected to be mentioned. Also did he seek a ‘clear statement’ on whether ‘wrap around services’ “in a more clinical form of health support” would be provided through public health services at District Health Boards.

According to his provisional opinion of 24 Oct. 2017 the Ombudsman had made further enquiries re this, and formed his view that section 18(g) gave the Ministry good reason to refuse the request (particularly section 18(g)(i)). In his response to that, dated 28 Oct. 2017, the complainant argued that he had still not received a clarified statement from MSD on whether ““wrap-around services” in a more clinical form of health support” were simply “provided as part of the ordinary, accessible public health care services presently available through District Health Boards”. In his final opinion of 14 Nov. 2017 Mr Donnelly would stick to his already formed view, that “an agency was not required to create information”, and that he could not take further the complainant’s concerns under the OIA. Although the complainant attempted to raise some remaining concerns about a number of aspects of his complaint with a letter and email of 16 Nov. 2017, the Investigator refused to engage in any further correspondence on the matters thus presented.

Request 4
In its response of 26 Feb. 2015 MSD presented two tables with information on MHES and SPES referral and participation numbers from Sept. 2013 to Oct. 2014, and how many ‘exited’ the services “As at the end of October 2014” for various stated reasons. The information thus presented did not appear clear and broken down enough; hence the complainant raised this in his complaint of 9 March 2015. He also noted that “NO information has been provided on those participants of either service, who have been successfully placed into employment”.

The Ombudsman did in his provisional opinion comment: “In response to my notification of your complaint about the form of the information provided, the Ministry has noted that, while your preference may not have been addressed, the information was in fact provided”. He accepted the Ministry’s response was “reasonable”. He added though that the Ministry had provided him some “manually collated data” about numbers successfully placed in employment, and that the Ministry was now happy to release it to the requester. Hence this part of the investigation was partly successful for the requester, as MSD would by way of a letter sent by email on 22 Nov. 2017 present some information on ‘Enrolments’ and ‘employment Outcomes’ for both MHES and SPES, which providers had sent them. The information showed how comparatively poorly the MHES trials performed, and it was not giving any information on the duration of ‘employment’ that participants had been referred to. See PART 14 for that ‘further information’ release and details in it.

Request 5
In its initial response of 26 Feb. 2015 MSD provided information, which appeared to contradict earlier presented information in their response of 24 April 2014. It wrote: “The Ministry does not record information pertaining to the wellbeing of a person following a referral to a service provider. As such this information is refused under section 18(e).” The complainant and information requester raised this with the Ombudsman in his complaint of 9 March 2015, asking why clear enough relevant information could be provided by MSD on 24 April 2014, and why the same kind of information was no longer available. He asked for a proper explanation and clarifications. But the Ombudsman did not even address this question, as this request point was ruled out by the Senior Investigator by way of her letter dated 16 May 2017, commenting that this complaint issue did not constitute an OIA request.

Request 6
All that MSD provided in its initial response of 26 Feb. 2015 was the following explanation: “There have not been any changes to the Work Ability Assessment, and as such no further information to that supplied to you on 24 April 2014 is available.” In his complaint of 9 March 2015 the complainant pointed out that MSD had again only provided head office addresses for ‘Work Ability Assessment’ (WAA) providers with their response dated 24 April 2014, not the on-site service delivery addresses.

The Ombudsman commented in his provisional opinion of 24 October 2017: “In response to notification of this aspect of your complaint, the Ministry have referred to their response to request 1, that is, that the physical address is available from the web site of the providers.” He then wrote: “I accept that section 18(d) provides good reason under the OIA to refuse this part of your request on the basis that the information is publicly available.”

In a response to the Ombudsman’s provisional opinion the complainant wrote on 28 Oct. 2017, partly also referring to his comments regarding ‘Request 1’, that he actually had some trouble finding a website, and also finding relevant, useful, conclusive information on existing websites on providers’ addresses. He wrote that there were no links or website addresses mentioned in the original response by MSD. He pointed out again, that the Ministry gave no reason as required under section 19 OIA, e.g. that the information was deemed to be publicly available. The Ombudsman did in his ‘final opinion’ point out that it was some time ago, that the complainant checked the websites he mentioned. He refused to take the matter further. So once again, Mr Donnelly seemed to consider section 19(a)(i) of the OIA was irrelevant, and that MSD did not have a responsibility to provide that reason in their first response.

Request 7
In their initial response of 26 Feb. 2015 the Ministry provided only the following explanation: “Information about work ability assessments was provided to you on 24 April 2014.” “Work and Income does not refer Supported Living Payment beneficiaries for Work Ability Assessments. However, those in receipt of Supported Living Payment can have work preparation obligations if they have been assessed as having capacity to prepare for work.” A link was provided for information on the Work and Income website, which contained little or no relevant information in reply to the actual request for information on expectations Work and Income were currently placing on sick and disabled on health related benefits, ‘in regards to meeting obligations to attend external examinations/assessments for medical conditions and work capability’. And no information was provided on sanctions, should a client object or refuse to participate in such an examination/assessment. In his complaint of 9 March 2015 the complainant pointed this out, and referred to the Ministry’s response of 24 April 2014, where it had not clearly enough stated what ‘sanctions’ may be imposed. He also wrote that his request had not been answered, when he asked for “information on any plans that may presently exist to change or increase particular expectations and/or criteria for sick, disabled and injured persons” on particular health related benefits, to be referred to work ability assessments.

The Ombudsman did in his provisional opinion of 24 Oct. 2017 write: “In response to my notification of this aspect of your complaint, the Ministry has apologised and acknowledged that they did fail to respond to this particular aspect of your request.” He wrote: “The Ministry has undertaken to now respond to you about this request.” All that MSD would later on 22 Nov. 2017 inform the complainant of was, that “The Ministry did not have any plans to change the Workability assessments or the expectations at the time” (of the OIA request). See PART 14 for their ‘further information’ response. That though still left some concerns of the complainant and information requester completely unanswered, e.g. the one about ‘sanctions’, and how they would be applied.

Request 8
Being asked about ‘specific performance targets’ for Work and Income staff, managers and Advisors, MSD stated on 26 Feb. 2015 that they paid no bonuses, offered no extra leave in recognition of performance, and that in past years some staff received a ‘productivity dividend‘ for meeting group measures in achieving efficiencies and reducing work duplication. A table for ‘Performance Payments’ and ‘Productivity Dividend’ payments was presented. They wrote that there were no performance measures for staff to refer beneficiaries to contracted services, and hence MSD withheld or refused the information under section 18(e) OIA. It was said that Work and Income monitored its business indicators and numbers of people on benefits, and there was no information provided on targets. So in his Ombudsman complaint of 9 March 2015 the complainant asked for the actual information on specific performance targets, as he had not received this. He referred to a RNZ interview on 15 April 2014 and provided a hyperlink. He quoted how a ‘Director for Welfare Reform’ had in that interview clearly said: ”They definitely have targets”, when talking about MHES service delivery and how WINZ worked with clients with mental and other health conditions. The complainant asked for a ‘clarification’ and ‘the requested information’.

In his provisional opinion Ombudsman Donnelly commented on 24 Oct. 2017: “In response to notification of this aspect of your complaint, the Ministry notes that it has provided you with the information you requested.” He appeared to reject the complainant’s impression that there was a potential contradiction between information provided by the Ministry and what was said in that radio program. He asserted the comments by the complainant about the radio program reflected his ‘interpretation’ and ‘extrapolation’. It was not part of his investigation and role so that a ‘better response’ was provided, he commented. He considered he could not take the matter further. So in his response to this, dated 28 Oct. 2017, the complainant wrote: “While I acknowledge your position on this aspect, I am concerned that the Ministry continues to insufficiently address the contradictions I observed.” He remained unconvinced and disappointed about the response by MSD, and that the Ombudsman could not take the matter further, so the complainant wrote. The Ombudsman simply refrained from offering any further comments on this in his short ‘final opinion’ of 14 Nov. 2017.

Request 9’ and ‘Request 10
The complainant considered MSD’s responses to requests 9 and 10 as generally satisfactory. Hence he did not raise any concerns or issues re these in his complaint to the Ombudsman.

Request 11
All that MSD had on 26 Feb. 2015 initially provided as information to this request were the following comments: “Medical practitioners provide an assessment of the impact of the individual’s disability or health condition on their ability to undertake suitable employment. The assessment also provides information that may enable an individual to work towards returning to paid employment. All guidance for medical practitioners on about the Medical Certificate is now provided online at: http://www.workandincome.govt.nz .” In his complaint of 9 March 2015 the complainant pointed out that the WINZ website did not contain the specific information he had requested, and that “direct Advisor to practitioner “advice” and “expectations” communicated to such health practitioners” was not to be found there. He wrote that he had asked whether “particular sets of questions” or “particular criteria” had been communicated to GPs. That request had not been met, and also had a source for the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ not been provided, he commented.

In his provisional opinion Mr Donnelly wrote: “In response to my notification of this aspect of your complaint, the Ministry noted that ‘[t]he Ministry considers that further advice should have been refused under section 18(f) of the Act as there will not be a centralised repository of ‘advice to doctors’. Mr Xxxxxx requested ‘information’ on the advice, not the advice itself, and has been provided with this.” Ombudsman Donnelly simply accepted MSD’s explanations and reason, and thought it had “good reasons to refuse the communications” under section 18(f). Strangely that reason was never provided by MSD with the initial response, and again, the Ombudsman saw no reason to remind MSD that it had to state a reason for a refusal, under section 19 OIA. The complainant and information requester did in his response of 28 Oct. 2017 express his view, that MSD’s responses were nothing but an attempt of ‘obfuscation’. He was concerned about the Ombudsman’s acceptance of MSD’s responses. He expressed his dissatisfaction about the lack of information about a ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’. He asked the Ombudsman to consider that a ‘centralised repository’ would be Dr Bratt’s Office.

The only further information Mr Donnelly would provide in his ‘final opinion’ was then: “I note the ‘Guide for Designated Doctors’ was being considered as one aspect of your complaint in 44xxx8 and I understand the Ministry has now released that document to you.” For the rest he appeared to uphold his ‘provisional opinion’. Again, MSD were allowed to use a refusal ground stated far too late, after having flouted the requirement under section 19 OIA.

Request 12’, ‘Request 13’ and ‘Request 14
The complainant was generally also mostly satisfied with the adequate responses he received from MSD to his information requests 12, 13 and 14, so there was insufficient reason to include any concerns re these in his complaint of 9 March 2015.

Additional issue with ‘Record keeping by Dr Bratt’
Having repeatedly raised concerns about Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt’s deletion of ‘all’ emails for a certain period, containing correspondence with external Advisor Prof. Mansel Aylward from the UK, and also about Dr Bratt’s professional integrity and competency, the complainant and information requester received another unsatisfactory decision or ‘opinion’ from Ombudsman Leo Donnelly (see his ‘provisional opinion’ letter of 24 Oct. 2017).

Mr Donnelly wrote was that he had “carefully considered” the comments by the complainant in his correspondence of 21 May 2016 (resent on 25 Aug. 2016). Although the complainant had presented a report with clear enough evidence from a senior scientist from the University of Otago in Wellington, Mr Gordon Purdie (NZMJ, Vol. 128, No 1425, of 20 Nov. 2015: https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2015/vol-128-no-1425-20-november-2015/6729 ), proving that Dr Bratt has misrepresented statistical reports and used these in ‘presentations’ to influence medical practitioners, the Ombudsman seemed little interested in looking into this any further.

He referred to former Ombudsman Ron Paterson’s ‘finding’, quoting him by writing that the complainant had “insufficient personal interest in the issue of Dr Bratt’s record-keeping”. So Mr Donnelly considered the following: “I do not see the link between your expressed concerns about Dr Bratt’s professional competency and a personal interest in Dr Bratt’s record-keeping.” He suggested Dr Bratt’s professional standards would “most appropriately be addressed by his professional body, not a layperson, such as myself”. He did not propose to investigate the complainant’s separate complaint about Dr Bratt’s ‘record-keeping’.

The complainant explained in some detail in his response of 28 Oct. 2017, that Dr Bratt could only be held to account by his ‘professional body’ (the Medical Council of New Zealand) for providing a service in the form of ‘practice of medicine’ (i.e. medical treatment). But he was not doing this, as a senior Advisor to MSD, he wrote. Hence the advice by the Ombudsman was “not helpful”, he commented. He also wrote that there were more serious matters to consider, it was not just about ‘record-keeping’. Through misrepresenting ‘evidence’ Dr Bratt was potentially putting WINZ clients with health conditions and disabilities at risk of suffering harm, he asserted. Nevertheless, the Ombudsman maintained his evasive view in his final opinion of 14 Nov. 2017, writing only: “Your comments are noted. I am still of the view that your personal interest in Dr Bratt’s record-keeping is insufficient”.

Unresolved concerns by the complainant

And following the extensive complaint correspondence, the complainant wrote once again on 16 Nov. 2017, expressing his disappointment about the ‘final opinion’ of Ombudsman Donnelly, and commenting, that the complaint had not been fully resolved. The short and blunt response by the Senior Investigator was – as already mentioned above:
“Your letter has been received and noted and placed on the file. The Ombudsman has completed his investigation of this complaint on the basis discussed in his letter of 14 November. The file will be closed once the Ministry advise this Office they have released the information discussed in respect of Requests 2, 4 and 7.”

So there was NO willingness from the side of the Office of Ombudsmen, to enter into any further communications re this complaint with the complainant (see again ‘PART 13’).

Summary Conclusion

So in summary, considering all of the above, it is evident, that the Ombudsman did not bother to firmly hold MSD to account for all of its failings, like not providing certain information from the start, and not providing reasons for this (required under section 19 OIA). He was somewhat casual in ‘resolving’ the complaint, as it appears, or rather the Investigator doing the actual ‘investigative’ and preparatory decision forming work. MSD were allowed to change their responses while they moved ahead in dealing with the Ombudsman, changing refusal grounds as they saw fit, offering some limited additional information in the end. They also suddenly raised new refusal grounds, where they had initially given no grounds at all. MSD was allowed to do this retrospectively, by providing a report to the Ombudsman, and during further communications, as it seems. MSD was allowed to withhold, or not present, some information that must certainly exist in their records, e.g. the ‘on-site addresses’ of service providers for MHES and SPES, as each Office would regularly refer some clients to such services. This would not happen by sending them to contact a ‘head office’. Also was MSD let off when it came to providing actual standard forms of ‘advice’ and ‘expectations’ communicated by its Advisors to health or medical practitioners, as Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt must certainly hold such information in his own office, which can be considered to be a ‘centralised repository’ for such information. All that they did in the end was present a copy of an outdated ‘Guide to Designated Doctors’, from about 2008, of which the complainant and information requester already had a copy (obtained in 2011).

And of even greater concern is the fact, that the Ombudsman has again shown, that he is not interested in investigating the conduct of a senior Advisor to MSD, Dr David Bratt, despite of compelling evidence of his misinterpreting and misrepresentation of statistical and scientific reports, from which he picks what he sees fit (out of context), and into which he reads what he wants others (e.g. medical practitioners signing medical certificates) to believe and act upon.

Ombudsman Donnelly appears to have more faith in the responses and explanations given by MSD staff and their Chief Executives, rather than take more serious the information requests, and evidence, presented by ordinary individual information requesters and complainants. This again raises questions about the slogan ‘Fairness for All’ used by their Office.

We present all this information, so to leave it to the readers here, to make their own judgment on the quality of Ombudsman Donnelly’s responses and ‘opinions’ that he formed. We also present the OIA released information, which MSD provided at first on 26 Feb. 2015, and then over two and a half years later on 22 Nov. 2015, so that people have access to what really goes on at the Ministry and its offices all over New Zealand.

From the finally released data on enrolments and employment outcomes for the MHES and SPES, which is sufficient for that purpose, we can say with confidence, that the so called ‘trials’ were NOT the kind of ‘success’ that some had proclaimed they were. That does in particular apply to the MHES. It was a costly and risky experiment conducted on persons with ‘common’ or ‘moderate’ mental health conditions.

That has in the meantime been quietly admitted, and swept under the carpet by MSD, as some reports found under the following links show:

‘Back-to-work programme labelled a fail’, New Zealand Herald article, 17 Sept. 2015:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11514141

Parliament’s Hansard with a question by Carmel Sepuloni, then Labour’s Spokesperson for Social Development, Question Time, 17 Sept. 2015:
https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/51HansS_20150917_00000477/sepuloni-carmel-oral-questions-questions-to-ministers

An OIA response by MSD, including an evaluation report on MHES, dated 23 Nov. 2016:

Click to access 20161123-questions-re-work-to-wellness-services-and-mental-health-employment-services-va15546757.pdf

Info on a replacement ‘Work to Wellness’ service that MSD has apparently by now started:
https://www.gets.govt.nz/MSD/ExternalTenderDetails.htm?id=17378666

 

Post updated and finalised – 28 January 2018

 

Quest for Justice

 
 

An easier to read PDF copy of this post can be found via this link:
MSD Release OIA Info On Failed MHES Trials 3 Years Late, Only Upon Advice By The Ombudsman, Report, 28.01.18

Another post about ‘Designated Doctors’, to whom some references were made in the above report or ‘post’, may also interest the reader. It can be found via these links:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/designated-doctors-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc-the-truth-about-them/

Click to access designated-doctors-used-by-winz-msd-the-truth-about-them-post-upd-18-10-2016.pdf

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