Archive for category WINZ and MSD in the Media

SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFIT RATES IN NEW ZEALAND –SET AT WILL BY GOVERNMENTS, IGNORING SOCIO-ECONOMIC REALITIES AND EVIDENCE


SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFIT RATES IN NEW ZEALAND –SET AT WILL BY GOVERNMENTS, IGNORING SOCIO-ECONOMIC REALITIES AND EVIDENCE

 

Published 23 May 2018

 
 

CONTENTS:

A) INTRODUCTION
B) OIA REQUESTS MADE TO MSD ON 8 JULY 2015
C) THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT’S (MSD’s) FIRST FORMAL RESPONSE TO THE REQUESTS, DATED 19 NOV. 2015
D) OMBUDSMAN COMPLAINTS OF 1 AND 22 NOV. 2015
E) MSD’s FURTHER RESPONSE OF 9 MARCH 2018
F) ANALYSIS OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED BY MSD
G) CONCLUSION

 
 

A) INTRODUCTION

After we already presented some interesting information made available by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in response to various Official Information Act (OIA) requests on earlier occasions, we can now present you more, some of which will be of significant interest to readers.

In the early hours on 9 July 2015 two new formal OIA requests, both dated 8 July 2015, were sent in to MSD by a requester by email, with 2 attached letters. The first request was rather straight-forward and simply asked for a breakdown of three types of benefits into components that should cover certain essential living costs. The second request was a bit more complex and specific, and it asked for some comprehensive information on a range of topics and areas. That request did for instance ask for expert advisors’ reports on health, disability and work-ability assessment matters that may have been used by the government in the process of preparing and formulating policy brought in as welfare reforms. Reports from external and internal advisors were asked for, same as copies of correspondence between MSD’s Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt and the UK ‘expert’ advisor Mansel Aylward, and others, at the ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ in Cardiff, Wales. Some other information asked for included conflict of interest declarations by members of a Health and Disability Panel that was set up to consult on welfare reforms, same as conflict of interest declarations by MSD’s Principal Health and Disability Advisors. Further information was requested about the Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt’s trip to Europe and the UK, about expenses paid for Designated Doctors, Host Doctors and Medical Appeal Board (MAB) hearings. Some data was sought on the numbers of MAB hearings and outcomes, on outcomes of so-called “social impact bond” funded trials, on outcomes of Mental Health Employment Services and Sole Parent Employment Services programs, same as on commissioned ‘Work Ability Assessments’ and ‘Specialist Assessments’. This post does though mainly focus on the first request and its responses.

The requester, whose name and details we intend to withhold for privacy reasons, did expect both complaints to be handled separately, and anticipated a reply to the first response within 20 working days, as required by the OIA. He did not expect a response to the second request letter within that time frame, as he understood that some of the questions asked in that one would require more time to be answered to, which would most likely also require a fair bit of collation of information.

Hence it was not surprising to the requester that he did on 3 August 2015 receive an email from MSD (their ‘Official and Parliamentary Information team’), advising that the Ministry would need an extension of time to respond to the OIA requests. There was no separate early response to the first OIA request, and so it appeared as if it would be processed together with the second request. A PDF containing a letter that was attached to the email advised him that: The Ministry’s response will be with you no later than 3 September 2015. Already on 28 July 2015 MSD had informed him by email and attached letter, that one question about “social impact bond funded projects” had been transferred to the Ministry of Health, as MSD did not hold the sought information. Receipt of that one request had also been confirmed by Fox Swindells, OIA Co-ordinator (Government Relations, Office of the Director General) at the Ministry of Health, by email on that same day.

While awaiting a response, the requester did on 3 September 2015 receive another email from MSD, updating him that the Ministry was unable to provide a response on that day. However, the letter advised that the request was then being processed with urgency, and that the Ministry would respond as soon as possible.

By 8 October 2015 the requester had still not received the information that was supposedly being prepared with urgency; hence he did on that same day send in an email to the OIA contact address of the Ministry, for which no identifiable name of any person had previously been provided. He asked for an update on the matter, mentioning the earlier responses by MSD. Expressing his understanding that it may take some time to prepare the response, as the information sought was more comprehensive than many common OIA requests, the requester pointed out that three months had now passed. He asked whether the response might take another two weeks, or a month, and he also wrote that if no response should come forth by the end of the month, he would consider bringing the matter to the attention of the Ombudsmen.

All that he received upon that email was yet another email with yet another apology from MSD, signed by a ‘Ministerial & Executive Services Advisor’ (with no name). The email informed him that the response was currently under review and was expected to be signed out within the next couple of days. The response will be with you by the end of the month if not sooner, it also said.

But for the following weeks there was again no response forthcoming from MSD, while at least the Ministry of Health had already presented a response to one particular request by email on 28 August 2015 (dated 25 August 2015). It did in the end take until 19 November 2015, when the proper formal response by MSD (to both OIA requests) was received by the requester (by email with an attachment).

In the following we will present you the requests or questions for the particular specified information the requester had asked for, and following that the responses given by MSD. As the response was initially delayed, and as some information was simply not provided with MSD’s formal response (some of that again without giving any reasons), the requester was (like on earlier occasions) forced to file complaints with the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 1 and 22 Nov. 2015. He asked to have the responses by MSD investigated and reviewed. He sought the Ombudsman’s intervention, in order to obtain the remaining information from MSD, and to have the Ministry provide proper answers to the questions that had not been properly replied to. We will also present you those letters, and specify and outline the information that MSD withheld and refused. It took the Office of Ombudsmen over two years to investigate the issues with MSD’s OIA response, as complained about in relation to the first OIA request. And it took MSD two and a half years to provide further explanations on 9 March 2018. As usual some comments will be made regarding the questions put and the answers received, and what conclusions can be drawn from the provided, rather general and limited information.

 
 

B) OIA REQUESTS MADE TO MSD ON 8 JULY 2015

In the following we present the particular questions contained in the first OIA request, which the requester asked MSD to answer and to provide information on (dated 8 July 2015):

Dear Mr Brendan Boyle, dear staff at the Ministry for Social Development

Please accept my request for the disclosure of the following specified information – under sections 12 and 16 of the Official Information Act 1982.

1. Information in the form of a detailed break-down of the main benefit type Jobseeker Support, into the separate components or parts of the base benefit, that are allocated to cover costs for food, clothing, accommodation, transport/travel, electricity, water, phone costs, social spending, and so forth, based on calculated average costs a benefit is intended to cover.

2. Information in the form of a detailed break-down of the main benefit type Supported Living Payment, into the separate components or parts of the base benefit, that are allocated to cover costs for food, clothing, accommodation, transport/travel, electricity, water, phone costs, social spending, and so forth, based on calculated average costs a benefit is intended to cover.

3. Information in the form of a detailed break-down of the main benefit type Sole Parent Support, into the separate components or parts of the base benefit, that are allocated to cover costs for food, clothing, accommodation, transport/travel, electricity, water, phone costs, social spending, and so forth, based on calculated average costs a benefit is intended to cover.

I am aware of additional supplements and allowances being available as further assistance, like the accommodation supplement, disability allowance and temporary additional support, which are covering additional costs, which cannot be covered by the base benefit.

But I know that the base rates are based on calculations for basic, average costs of living, and I seek the details of these calculations, for each single, usual cost type or category.

The above requested specified information is sought to be made available under the Official Information Act 1982 within the specified time frame of 20 working days.

I kindly and respectfully ask that the information is made available by way of a sufficiently detailed written response, containing the relevant information. Otherwise it can also be made available by way of equally good quality computer generated printouts containing the information or part thereof.

Thank you for your acknowledgment and appreciated co-operation.

Yours sincerely

Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxx”

Here is a copy of the OIA request letter, sent to MSD by email in the early hours on 9 July 2015:
MSD, O.I.A. request, to C.E. of M.S.D., base benefit break down, anon, 08.07.15

 

Comments by the author

For decades New Zealanders on benefits have had to struggle and cope on their meagre incomes, while receiving main or base benefits that are for many people not enough to survive on. Only those choosing to live in cramped conditions in shared homes may in some cases manage to get by on the main benefit alone. The vast majority of beneficiaries do require top-ups of benefits, for accommodation and disability related costs, and for various other essential living expenses, in order to survive on a shoestring budget – or less. Additional supplements and allowances, including also the ‘Temporary Additional Support’ (in short TAS, which replaced the former Special Benefit) are often capped or have set maximum limits. But the particular rates – or claimable amounts – for these are known. The main benefits, although insufficient to really cover all essential living expenses, should by a person’s reasonable presumption have been calculated following some kind of a formula, to cover a range of very basic standard costs per person, and that is what the requester wanted to get details on.

 

In the following, and for your interest, we present a PDF with an authentic, partly redacted copy of the second and more comprehensive OIA request of 8 July 2015, containing 21 further questions (or points of request) that were also sent to MSD to respond to:
MSD, O.I.A. request, to C.E. of MSD, Bratt, H+D Panel, Reforms, anon, 08.07.15

We will not go into detail about this second request, as this post will focus on the first and shorter OIA request for information on benefit components, or parts of benefits, that one would presume should cover particular living cost items every ordinary person would have to meet (at a bare minimum).

 
 

C) THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT’S (MSD’s) FIRST FORMAL RESPONSE TO THE REQUESTS, DATED 19 NOV. 2015

As a very first response, MSD wrote back to the requester by email at about 12.52h and 13.59h on 9 July 2015, sending two virtually identical standard email confirmations for the receipt of the requests, which had been referred to the “appropriate officials at National office to respond”. A response to the OIA requests was indicated to follow “as soon as possible”.

AT 13.23h on 28 July 2015 the requester received another email from MSD, with an attached PDF letter, informing him that one request point from his comprehensive OIA request had been referred to the Ministry of Health for a response.

This was followed by yet another email letter sent at about 16.17h on 3 August 2015, which had a separate PDF with a formal letter attached. The letter explained that the Ministry needed to extend the time for responding to the OIA request, and it informed the requester that the Ministry would respond to his request by no later than 3 September 2015. For a reason, a mention was made of the “large quantity of information” that the requester had asked for.

But at about 14.39h on 3 Sept. 2015, a person at the Ministry wrote back to the requester, informing him by way of an update, that they could not provide a response with the asked for information to his two requests ‘today’. An unnamed person identified only as ‘Ministerial + Executive Services Advisor’ wrote that the Ministry was currently processing the request with urgency, and that they would respond as soon as possible.

In the early hours on 8 October 2015 the OIA requester wrote back to MSD, referring to the email received on 3 Aug. 2015 (with an attached PDF containing a letter), which had informed him that he could expect a response to his information request no later than 3 Sept. 2015. The requester wrote that it was about two months since he had made his request, and that he had last been informed that the matter would be dealt with under urgency.

He wrote that three months had now passed, and while he showed an understanding for the response requiring some time, he asked for a clear indication as to when he could expect a response. He asked whether it would take another two weeks, or perhaps a month, but expressed his expectation for a response no later than by the end of that month, as otherwise he would need to bring the matter to the attention of the Ombudsmen.

At 08.14h on that same day (8 Oct. 2015) the requester received another email from a person at the Ministry, again only identifiable as ‘Ministerial + Executive Services Advisor’. The unnamed person now wrote that the response was ‘currently under review’, and that it was expected to be “signed out within the next couple of days”. The response would be with him by the end of the month if not sooner, the MSD Advisor wrote.

Only at 10.55h on 19 November 2015 would the OIA requester finally receive an email from MSD, with the attached response (contained in a PDF file, consisting of a six page letter and 3 pages of attachments). That was over four moths after his request!

 

Here we can now present the response with the answers that were received from MSD by email and attached letter on 19 November 2015. The partly redacted transcript of MSD’s response, from the letter received, and quoted below, relates to the first OIA request with three questions:

“19 NOV 2015

Mr Xxxxxxx Xxxxxx

Xx Xxxxxxxxx Xxxxxx
Xxxxxxxx
Auckland 1xxx
Xxxxxxx_xxxxxx@xxxxx.xxx.xx

Dear Mr Xxxxxxx

On 08 July 2015 you emailed the Ministry two letters requesting, under the Official Information Act 1982, information on Jobseeker Support, Supported Living Payment, Sole Parent Support and various reports relating to health and disability research. This letter responds to both of your requests for information and addresses 24 questions.

I will address each of your questions as follows:

Questions 1 to 3 (Benefit breakdowns and living costs):

New Zealand’s main benefit system provides a basic income to replace income that would generally be obtained through paid employment. Benefits are funded through general taxes. The initial rate of benefit depends on the benefit type and whether the person is single, partnered or a sole parent. The rate of payment does not relate to the person’s previous income from employment, rather it is intended to provide an adequate income to meet basic living costs.

There is no legislative formula used to decide the “correct” rate of benefit however a number of competing objectives and issues must be taken into account, including whether the rates:

• provide an adequate income to allow participation and belonging in society.
• are economically sustainable.
• maintain incentives to work.
• maintain incentives to study (particularly in the case of younger people).
• achieve broadly equivalent living standards for different household types receiving the same benefit.

The standard weekly rates of the main benefits are increased every year on 1 April. This increase reflects changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the previous year. Unlike New Zealand Superannuation rates, main benefit rates are not linked to any measurement of wages.”

The full response letter was signed by Carl Crafar, Deputy Chief Executive for Service Delivery.

 

Answers to questions 1 to 21 of the second OIA request dated 8 July 2015 have not been included in this transcript, as this post is about the responses sought to questions about benefit components that should cover living costs of beneficiaries. You can look up the whole response, contained in a PDF containing a scan copy of the letter by MSD dated 19 Nov. 2015 for those details.

Please find under these two links an anonymised scan copy of MSD’s OIA response of 19 Nov. 2015, one “clean” copy, and an extra one, that has highlighted text parts (and some notes):
MSD, OIA rqst, Advisors, MHES, SPES, WAA, reports, WINZ, reply, anon, 19.11.15
MSD, OIA rqst to C.E., Dr Bratt, H+D Panel, MHES, SPES, WAA, reports, 08.07., reply, hi-lit, 19.11.15

Here is also a scan copy of the Ministry of Health’s response to request/question nr. 17, contained in the second OIA request letter of 8 July 2015:
Min. of Health, OIA rqst, transfered by MSD, social bonds, acknowledgmt, 28.07.15
Min. of Health, Dep. Dir.-Gen., OIA rqst, social bonds, transfered fr. MSD, reply, 25.08.15

 

An earlier post covering the whole OIA request, MSD’s first responses, and the requester’s Ombudsmen Office complaint was published on this Blog on 27 Nov. 2015, under the title:
THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT’S SELECTIVE AND POOR RESPONSES TO NEW O.I.A. REQUESTS ON BENEFITS, ADVISORS, REPORTS, MENTAL HEALTH AND SOLE PARENT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES.

It can be found by clicking this following hyperlink:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/msds-selective-and-poor-responses-to-new-oia-requests-on-benefits-advisors-reports-mental-health-and-sole-parent-employment-services/
And here is the newest, updated and current PDF version (as on 10.04.18):
MSD’s Selective + Poor Responses To New OIA Requests, Post, NZSJB, upd., 27.11.15

 
 

D) OMBUDSMAN COMPLAINTS OF 1 AND 22 NOV. 2015

Given the fact that MSD did not provide the asked for information within the stipulated time frame of 20 working days, and then also not within the time they had indicated after seeking an extension of time to respond (by email on 3 August 2015), the OIA requester had by 1 Nov. 2015 again seen a need to file a formal complaint with the Office of Ombudsmen.

By way of a letter dated 1 Nov. 2015, the OIA requester – turned complainant – raised his concerns that MSD had failed to respond to his request, despite of having announced earlier on 8 October 2015, that a response was ready for sign off and due to be sent out in days. He presented a copy of that email, which he had received on 8 October, and also copies of earlier email correspondence with MSD that occurred between 9 July and 8 October 2015.

A PDF file with the authentic text of that letter by the complainant, dated 1 Nov. 2015, partly redacted for privacy reasons, can be found via the following hyperlinks:
Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, failure to comply with OIA rqst fr. 08.07.15, anon, 01.11.2015

That complaint would at first be treated like a mere ‘delay complaint’, but after finally receiving the response by MSD, dated 19 Nov. 2015, the OIA requester and complainant would later file a more comprehensive, formal complaint with the Ombudsmen, raising his concerns about, and objections to, the OIA response – by way of another letter (sent in by email), dated 22 November 2015.

But prior to that, he would receive a first standard-type email response from the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 2 Nov. 2015, bearing no signature or name. It confirmed the receipt of his correspondence of 1 November, and he was informed that his complaint would be processed under their reference 41xxx7. Some other standard kind of information was also provided.

A PDF file containing an authentic scan copy of that email of 2 Nov. 2015, partly redacted for privacy reasons, can be found via the following links:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA Rqst 08.07.15, insuff. info, 1st reply, anon, 02.11.2015
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., 1st reply, hilit, 02.11.15

On 20 Nov. 2015 the complainant received an email with an attached letter from the Ombudsmen Office, signed by Ombudsman Leo Donnelly. The same letter would also be sent to him by post, and received by him on 23 Nov. 2015. Mr Donnelly wrote on behalf of Chief Ombudsman Ron Paterson, acknowledging the complaint, and informed the complainant that they were making enquiries with the Ministry. Mr Donnelly wrote that a decision (by MSD) on the requester’s OIA requests was to be made and communicated to him in the next few weeks. If he was not satisfied with the ‘substantive’ response, he should feel free to write to Dr Paterson again, so the letter ended.

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of that letter by Leo Donnelly, partly redacted, and dated 20 Nov. 2015, can be loaded via the following links:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, insufficient info, ltr, L. D., anon, 20.11.15
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., ltr L. D., hilit, 20.11.15

While having entered correspondence with the Ombudsmen Office, the complainant would in the meantime receive the long awaited, much overdue further correspondence from the Ministry of Social Development in the form of their formal OIA response, dated 19 November 2015.

After receiving MSD’s formal response on 19 Nov. 2015, and finding that a number of requests were not properly answered, partly due to stated OIA refusal grounds, and partly with no satisfactory explanations given, the OIA requester and complainant wrote his further second formal complaint letter to the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 22 Nov. 2015.

He referred to his earlier “delay complaint”, and explained how he had now received a response from the Ministry on 19 Nov. 2015, which was though not satisfactory, as MSD had withheld information “without giving any acceptable reasons for this”. He explained his concerns and issues with the response by separating the two requests and responses, which he had received, one from another. Regarding the first three request points relating to benefit components, he wrote that MSD had in his view failed to properly answer those three questions. He wrote in the end of his letter that he considered that he still deserved a response – or further response – in respect of his requests or ‘questions’ 1 to 3, same as to some other ones made with his second letter of 8 July 2015.

A PDF with the authentic text of the further complaint letter by the complainant, dated 22 Nov. 2015, that was sent to the Ombudsmen, can be found via the following link (partly redacted):
Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, failure to comply with OIA rqst fr. 08.07.15, anon, 22.11.15

 

This is an authentic transcript of what the complainant wrote in his complaint of 22 Nov. 2015, in relation to his first OIA request with three questions re benefit rates and what components they may contain:

Complaint about the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) failing to provide information under the Official Information Act 1982 (O.I.A.), as per my two requests dated 08 July 2015; your reference number 41xxxx

 

Dear Ombudsman, dear staff at the Office of Ombudsmen

On 01 November 2015 I sent you a complaint stating that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) had failed to provide a response to two requests I had on 08 July 2015 made under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). I can inform you that I did finally receive a response on 19 November, but as it has repeatedly occurred in earlier cases, some information that I asked for has not been provided, and some of that again without stating any reasons for it.

Hence I must follow up my earlier “delay complaint” with this further complaint letter, detailing what information MSD provided, and what the Ministry has withheld without giving any acceptable reasons for this. I do this following the advice in the response letter from MSD, to contact your Office, should I wish to have their response reviewed.

Like I mentioned above, I did on 08 July 2015 send two letters with a number of OIA requests to the Chief Executive of MSD. One letter contained only three straight forward requests for a cost component breakdown for the Jobseeker Support, Supported Living Payment and Sole Parent Support benefits. A separate letter contained 21 requests for more specified and comprehensive information. Copies of both requests were sent to your Office, but I will nevertheless attach them again to this letter, so they are readily available to you.

 

My first OIA request from 08 July 2015

In my first request to MSD I asked for the mentioned “breakdown” of three main benefit types, the Jobseeker Support, Supported Living Payment and Sole Parent Support benefits, referring clearly to costs for food, clothing, accommodation, transport/travel, electricity, water, phone costs, social spending and so forth. I listed my questions numbered with 1 to 3.

MSD have only provided explanations that the base benefit rates are different dependent on benefit types (e.g. whether a person is single, partnered or a sole parent), that they are not based on a person’s previous income from employment, and that they are rather “intended to provide an adequate income to meet basic living costs”. Then MSD informed me that “there is no legislative formula used to decide the “correct” rates of benefit” and listed a few “competing objectives and issues” to take into account. I was informed of the annual inflation adjustment, but given NO reply to my actual questions, which asked, what components or parts of costs MSD considers for the listed common living cost items (e.g. food and so forth).

MSD have in my view failed to properly answer these three questions. I have been informed that MSD has at least in the past used specific cost calculations for determining how high the main benefits should be, in order to be sufficient for people to live from, and that was the information I expected. The questions I put to MSD, and the requests I made to them, should have been clear enough for MSD to provide the information that they use to determine living costs, and as far as I was advised some years ago, there were standard formula or so used (not “legislative”) to do this. I do not believe that MSD simply make up base benefit rates, without using some acceptable, available officially accepted guidance. I am familiar with separate allowances and top ups that are available for persons on benefits in certain circumstances, such as the accommodation supplement, disability allowance and temporary additional support. But those are special additions, which are not included in the main or base benefit rates, and persons need to prove they have extra needs to get these additional top ups. Hence I do expect a breakdown of the main or base benefit rates, which logically will have considerations for standard costs for a range of basic living expenses.

As MSD also administer ‘Studylink’, I wonder whether the Ministry uses similar considerations as are indicated in the following information shown on the ‘Studylink’ website:
http://www.studylink.govt.nz/tools-and-calculators/on-course-budget-calculator.html
On that page with their ‘Cost of living calculator’ there is mention of “typical costs”, “estimates for most of the basic weekly costs”, and under ‘How we got the real world estimates’ it says under point 3: “Power, groceries, petrol, clothes, takeaways, leisure, toiletries/beauty/makeup these are the average person’s weekly spending, taken from the Housing Expenditure Survey 2007 and adjusted for inflation.”

In any case, I know very few persons dependent on social security benefits, who feel that they have an adequate income “to allow participation and belonging in society”. Main or base benefit rates barely cover all the basic living costs, most certainly not here in Auckland, and there is no active participation possible for them in social activities, when compared to what persons with say an average income are able to do. In any case I must ask you as Ombudsman to remind MSD of my actual question, and to ensure the Ministry does actually properly answer the questions put to it and provides the information that I requested.”

The complainant would close his letter to the Ombudsman with the following comments:
“To summarise the above, I consider that I still deserve a response or further response in respect of questions 1 to 3 in my first OIA request from 08 July 2015, and that I still deserve a further response to questions in my second request from 08 July 2015, being to questions 1 to 4 (on whether reports existed, and why they no longer exist), to question 7 (provision of conflict of interest forms), question 8 (conflict of interest declarations by Dr Bratt and Anne Hawker), question 9 (why are reports missing, and who paid Dr Bratt’s other costs), question 10 (share of costs paid), questions 13 and 14 (clarification on some MAB data), questions 18 and 19 (clarification re persons in work, for what period, also further data previously made available) and questions 20 and 21 (no answer at all was provided).

I regret having to seek your assistance yet again, but given the response by MSD, I must consider that it is for me the only logical next step to ask for your intervention, so to ensure that MSD actually provide the information that was requested.

As usual, your response in due time will be much appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxx”

 

Altogether 15 attachments and one particular hyperlink reference were sent with his complaint letter, listed at the end of it. They also included some earlier OIA responses from MSD, mostly relating to particular issues raised re the responses to his second request letter of 8 July 2015.

 

Author’s note:
When you click the hyperlink to the Studylink website that is shown in the text of the above quoted letter, you will find a page that has been changed. The information that used to be shown there is no longer to be found. Quite clearly, MSD management took some action to have their website redesigned, and they ensured that no detailed information is found on particular types of living costs they had once listed as being considered as standard living costs. All that is shown now is an overview over aspects to consider when intending to study, under the heading ‘Can you afford to study?’.

 

Further Ombudsman OIA complaint correspondence

Following that complaint letter, Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly wrote back to the complainant on 21 Dec. 2015, thanking for his letter, apologising for the delay in responding, and informing him, that his complaint would be allocated to an investigator (after another assessment had already been made). The complainant would be contacted by the Manager in charge of the Investigation and Resolution Team at the Auckland Office of the Ombudsmen, when there was progress to report, so the letter said.

A PDF file containing the authentic scan copy of that letter by Leo Donnelly, and of further email correspondence in the complaint matter, can be found by clicking the following links:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA Rqst 08.07.15, insuff. info, corresp., anon, 21.12.15 – 11.12.17
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., corresp., hilit, 21.12.15-11.12.17

It did regrettably take another two years for the complainant to finally see any actual ‘progress’ in the matter, which only happened after yet further correspondence (particularly between May and Dec. 2017), where the complainant asked for some updates and was on occasion provided with this.

Then, suddenly in mid January 2018, the Ombudsman’s ‘Acting Senior Investigator’ wrote back to the complainant and information requester, with a letter dated 15 January 2018. The person wrote on behalf of Chief Ombudsman Mr Boshier, and explained that he was now investigating this complaint. Apologies were made for the lengthy delays due to ‘workload pressures’. In referring to the OIA requests in question, and the complainant’s letter of 22 Nov. 2015, it was explained that ‘not all the issues raised’ constituted OIA complaints. That was though more the case with the second OIA request letter. It was acknowledged, though, that the complainant was of the view that the responses he received to his first OIA request with three questions on benefit rates as being ‘inadequate’.

The complainant was informed by the Investigator that the Ombudsmen Office had written to the Chief Executive of MSD, Mr Brendan Boyle, notifying him of the complaint. A report on MSD’s response and re the requests had been asked for, same as re the issues raised with the complaint.

A PDF with the authentic letter by that ‘Acting Senior Investigator’ and the Ombudsmen’s Office, dated 15 Jan. 2018, only partly redacted for privacy reasons, is found via these links:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, insuff. info, upd., anon, 15.01.18
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., upd. ltr, hilit, 15.01.18

 

The Ombudsmen Office’s proposed part decision

It would take until mid March 2018, until the Ombudsmen Office would present its part decision on complaint 41xxx7. This time the Manager for Investigations and Disputes Resolution at the Auckland Office of the Ombudsmen, Mr T. Xxxxxxx, wrote himself to the complainant, on behalf of Mr Boshier. By way of his update, he confirmed that the Ministry had provided a report to the Chief Ombudsman. He also acknowledged that the Ministry had in addition to that provided the complainant with an updated explanation in response to his first OIA request.

Indeed, MSD had on 9 March 2018 sent the OIA requester another email, offering further explanations to OIA requests 1 to 3 in the first request letter of 8 July 2015. But that information was not much different to what had already been provided with the initial response of 19 Nov. 2015. The further response by MSD can be loaded via a link further below, under Part or Chapter ‘E’ in this post.

By referring to the Ministry’s initial response and advice, and to the OIA requester’s and complainant’s relevant comments in his letter of 22 Nov. 2015, the Manager at the Auckland Ombudsmen’s Office wrote the following:

“On 9 March 2018 the Ministry provided you with an updated explanation confirming that no formulae or ‘cost calculations’ are used to set benefit rates, and that instead the current rates ‘have been arrived at by a series of historical decisions’. The Ministry’s Policy Team explained that decisions on benefit rates involve balancing a number of competing objectives and issues, and provided you with a summary of those factors.

It may be that you remain concerned that the Ministry does not appear to directly refer to average costs of various essential items, such as food, electricity and clothing, when setting benefit rates. However, it is difficult to see what further information could be provided by the Ministry in response to your request for a ‘breakdown’ of benefit rates. Any concerns you may have about the policy adopted by the Ministry when setting benefit rates, or requests for further information or clarification of information already provided, should be addressed directly to the Ministry for its consideration.

Section 17(1)(f)(ii) Ombudsmen Act 1975 provides that an Ombudsman may decline to further investigate a complaint if it appears that, having regard to all circumstances of a case, and having commenced an investigation, further investigation is unnecessary.

In the circumstances it would appear that further investigation of your complaint about the Ministry’s response to your first request of 8 July 2015 is unnecessary.”

So the Chief Ombudsman appeared to have little interest in taking that matter any further, but the complainant was at least allowed to offer his further comments by Thursday 29 March 2018.

A PDF file with an authentic scan copy of that letter by the Manager in charge of Investigations and Resolution at the Auckland Office, dated 12 March 2018, partly redacted, is found here:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, insuff. info, pt dec., anon, 12.03.18
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., pt dec., hilit, 12.03.18

 

The complainant’s further submission to the Ombudsmen Office

Continuing to be concerned about the in his view still unsatisfactory response by MSD to his information requests, the complainant wrote back in response to that letter by the Ombudsmen’s Office, presenting his largely unchanged position.

Acknowledging the email and letter by the Auckland Office’s Manager of 12 March 2018, and confirming he had received a further ‘updated explanation’ from the Ministry of Social Development, the complainant wrote that his requests of 8 July 2015 had still not been answered.

While quoting some explanations given by MSD, he repeated his sufficiently clear and specific points of request made then, and referred to the treatment of student allowances that the Ministry also granted and paid via ‘Studylink’, and what considerations were apparently made for calculating those.

He wrote also: “As you suggest in your letter of 12 March 2018, I do indeed remain concerned that the Ministry does not refer directly to average costs of essential living costs like food, electricity, clothing and so forth, which it must nevertheless consider when setting benefit rates.” “I do not for one moment believe that no calculations of whatever kind were ever made to work out benefit rates.”

He listed the objectives that MSD appears to be considering when setting benefit rates, and he wrote:
“In order to achieve just those few objectives, any government department such as MSD has to base its decisions on factual and relevant information that measures living costs an ordinary person would have to cover. And such costs are commonly and usually measured in monetary terms. Also would a government department have to work by making decisions that are evidence based, not simply grabbed out of thin air, or based on subjective views.

Furthermore, any application a beneficiary or potential beneficiary may make to MSD’s department Work and Income asks for detailed information including received income, held assets, existing living cost expenditure, and so forth – in NZ Dollar terms, in order to work out any entitlements an applicant to a benefit or supplementary allowance may have.

The ‘explanations’ given by the ‘Policy Team’ at MSD are rather general and anything but convincing, and they appear to distract from my specified requests, and I cannot accept such a response to my OIA requests, as it is completely unreasonable.

Also do I consider it unreasonable that I should request further information or seek further clarifications from MSD, as my initial request was already clear and specified enough.

I would consider that your Office must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, which includes MSD providing such an unreasonable response to me, before making any decision based on section 17(1)(f)(ii) Ombudsmen Act 1975, to decline to further investigate this matter, as in my view a further investigation is absolutely necessary.

Last not least, MSD refers to a “series of historical decisions” that current benefit rates are based on, but offers no detailed, identifiable information at all on these decisions, which is again an unreasonable refusal of information, which they do nevertheless appear to consider as being relevant enough to consider when responding to my request.

I do therefore not agree with your view that a further investigation is unnecessary, and ask you to further challenge the Chief Executive and his/her staff at the Ministry of Social Development, to present some factual, evidence based information, e.g. used living cost data representing ordinary, common average costs that ordinary benefit recipients have, which must be used when considering and setting benefit rates. MSD may rely on Statistics NZ or other sources for information, but must be expected to present or point to such information.”

A PDF file with the authentic text of the complainant’s response to the provisional part decision by the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 12 March 2018, slightly redacted, is found via this link:
Ombudsman, complaint, 41xxx7, MSD, failure to comply w. OIA rqst fr. 08.07.17, ltr, anon, 12.03.18

 

The Ombudsman’s final decision on the (first part of) the OIA complaint

But the complainant’s efforts to challenge the Ombudsmen Office to take a firmer stand towards the Chief Executive at MSD were to no avail, as the same Manager for Investigations and Resolution at the Auckland Office soon wrote back with his final decision on this aspect of the OIA requester’s complaint, which was dated 19 March 2018.

He wrote again on behalf of Chief Ombudsman Boshier, basically upholding his already announced decision of 12 March 2018. He referred also to the schedules in the Social Security Act 1964, in which benefit rates were set by Parliament, most likely based on advice by the Ministry. Those actions were outside the scope of the Chief Ombudsman’s investigation and review (authority) under the OIA, he wrote. He asserted that what the complainant had raised with his complaint was predominantly a ‘policy issue’, rather than a request for official information under the OIA.

So the Manager at the Ombudsmen Office decided that further investigation of the complainant’s complaint about the Ministry’s response to the first part of his OIA request was unnecessary, and that the Chief Ombudsman’s investigation of that matter had been discontinued.

A PDF with an authentic scan copy of that final decision by the Office of Ombudsmen, dated 19 March 2018, and with some personal details concealed, can be loaded by clicking these links:
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, insuff. info, final pt. dec., 19.03.18
Ombudsman, complaint 41xxx7, MSD, OIA rqst 08.07.15, info ref., fin. pt dec., hilit, 19.03.18

 
 

E) MSD’s FURTHER RESPONSE OF 9 MARCH 2018

As mentioned above, there was one further response provided by the Ministry by way of an email, which had been sent to the OIA requester and Ombudsmen Office complainant on 9 March 2018. This response was not all that much different to the initial response that MSD had provided on 19 Nov. 2015. But it contained some further new comments, which referred also to the schedules in the Social Security Act 1964, which contained the actual benefit rates set by Parliament.

Diane Anderson – ‘Manager Complaints Management Insights and Improvements’, at MSD wrote on 9 March 2018 (by email):

“Dear Xx Xxxxxxx

I refer to your OIA request of 08 July 2015 in which you had sought a ‘breakdown’ of the Jobseeker Support benefit, the Supported Living Payment and the Sole Parent Support benefit with reference to costs for food, clothing, accommodation, and so on.

The Ministry had previously responded that there was no legislative formula to determine benefit rates, but that the rate depends on factors such as benefit type, and whether a person is single or has dependent children.

You were of the view however that the Ministry’s response was inadequate and had laid a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman who had asked us for a to provide more of an explanation of how benefit rates are determined.

We have consulted our Policy Team and a fuller explanation of how benefit rates are determined is given below:

Benefit rates

1 The working age benefit rates are set out in the schedules to the Social Security Act.

2 The main benefit system provides a basic income to replace income that would generally be obtained through paid employment. Benefits are funded through general taxes. The initial rate of benefit varies according to the benefit type and whether the person is single, partnered or a sole parent. The rate of payment does not relate to the person’s previous income from employment, rather it is intended to provide an adequate income to meet basic living costs, within a context that includes the availability of second and third tier assistance. The current rates have been arrived at by a series of historical decisions. There is no legislative formula to derive “correct” rates of benefit, rather judgments have been made balancing a number of competing objectives and issues, including whether the rates:

• provide an adequate income to allow participation and belonging[1] in society
• are fiscally sustainable (both the rate paid and the number of people supported by benefits affect their affordability)
• maintain incentives to work
• maintain incentives to study (particularly in the case of younger people)
• are publicly accepted (generally perceived as not too high and not too low and are consistent with broad assumptions about the needs of the particular benefit group – for example the assumption that a person receiving Jobseeker Support will return as quickly as possible to paid work)
• achieve broadly equivalent living standards[2] for different household types receiving the same benefit.

3 By convention, the purchasing power of benefit rates is preserved by an adjustment on 1 April each year reflecting any increase in the cost of living as measured by the movement in the Consumers Price Index. The Social Security Act contains provision to make this adjustment mechanism a legislative requirement. Unlike New Zealand Superannuation rates, main benefit rates are not linked to any wage measure. Hence, under the current adjustment mechanism, benefit levels will rise relative to wages at times when prices move faster than wages, and fall relative to wages when wages move faster than prices.

4 Within each working age benefit type, different rates apply for people who are couples, sole parents or single (this rate also varies according to the age of the person).

5 Additional basic income support for dependent children is paid through the family tax credit. The rate of benefit paid for couples with children is the same as the rate paid to couples without children. All of the working age benefits contain a sole parent rate of payment, which is higher than the single rate. This means that a sole parent can have his or her family circumstances recognised through any of the main benefits. The sole parent rate is the same regardless of the number of dependent children. New Zealand Superannuation is not a working age benefit and has a different rate structure for single people and couples.

Note [1]: ………(see scan copy provided under relevant link below!)

Note [2]: ………(see scan copy provided under relevant link below!)

I hope you would find our explanation as above, an adequate response to your OIA (Request 1) of 08 July 2015.

Kind regards Diane”

A PDF containing an authentic scan copy of the final email response by Diane Anderson of the Ministry, dated 9 March 2018, can be found via these links (only partly redacted):
MSD, OIA Rqst, 08.07.15, Benefit Rates, final response, email, anon, 09.03.18
MSD, OIA Rqst, 08.07.15, Benefit Rates, final response, email, hilit, anon, 09.03.18

 
 

F) ANALYSIS OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED BY MSD

The OIA requester was presented with two responses he received from the Ministry, one dated 19 Nov. 2015, the other one dated 9 March 2018, and they contained more or less the same information.
Re the responses to questions 1 to 3 of the first OIA request from 8 July 2015 MSD continued to maintain that there was no legislative formula used for calculating and setting benefit rates. They were not based on particular living costs, it seemed. Benefit rates would rather depend on a person’s circumstances, i.e. whether being single, or in a relationship and/or whether having dependants as a sole parent. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was mentioned in the first response, to explain that inflation adjustments are made annually, as the Social Security Act 1964 appears to require it.

With the second response the Ministry then referred to the schedules in the Social Security Act, which would contain the current benefit rates, which had not been mentioned in their first response. Nevertheless, a number of factors were again listed, which were apparently being considered when determining benefit rates. Also did Diane Anderson mention ‘additional basic income support’ being available for parents with children, in the form of the family tax credit. This further response was provided to the OIA requester upon internal consultation with the Ministry’s ‘Policy Team’.

Besides of maintaining ‘incentives’ to work or study, benefits had to be ‘fiscally sustainable’, Diane Anderson wrote in her email letter. Also did she comment: “The current rates have been arrived at by a series of historical decisions.”

The first response by Carl Crafar, dated 19 Nov. 2015 listed (besides others) this objective:
“provide an adequate income to allow participation and belonging in society”.
The second response by Diane Anderson, dated 9 March 2018, listed (besides others) the same:
“provide an adequate income to allow participation and belonging[1] in society

It is worth noting what the complainant wrote in his Ombudsmen Office OIA complaint of 22 Nov. 2015:
“As MSD also administer ‘Studylink’, I wonder whether the Ministry uses similar considerations as are indicated in the following information shown on the ‘Studylink’ website:
http://www.studylink.govt.nz/tools-and-calculators/on-course-budget-calculator.html
On that page with their ‘Cost of living calculator’ there is mention of “typical costs”, “estimates for most of the basic weekly costs”, and under ‘How we got the real world estimates’ it says under point 3: “Power, groceries, petrol, clothes, takeaways, leisure, toiletries/beauty/makeup these are the average person’s weekly spending, taken from the Housing Expenditure Survey 2007 and adjusted for inflation.”

As was mentioned in a note further above in this post (under the transcript of the complainant’s letter to the Ombudsmen, dated 22 Nov. 2015), the page that now loads on the ‘Studylink’ website – when clicking the link provided – is no longer the same. Information that was once made available there is no longer to be found. Only simplified, brief, more general and less specific information is shown for the Student Allowance. We no longer find a reference to the ‘Housing Expenditure Survey 2007’.

That survey from 2007 will of course by now be well out of date, but one would have thought, that when determining any benefit rates, the Ministry would get its policy team experts source and use some relevant scientifically gathered statistical information in the form of details on what an average person needs to cover his or her basic living expenses. How else can anyone determine what is an adequate income for a person having to live off a benefit?

It appears though, that the Ministry is extremely reluctant to be nailed down on any details that may somehow be used to determine benefit rates, possibly for fear of people taking them to court or so, should benefit rates prove to be insufficient to enable a person to ‘participate’ and ‘belong’ in society.

It is beyond belief, that those in charge of forming MSD policy and offering advice, which is also used by the government of the day to make decisions on social security matters, including the setting of benefit rates, would not conduct any research and not make any calculations in whatever form. It is hard to believe that they would not base any advice or guidance to government on reliable, scientifically gathered statistical data from Statistics New Zealand – or any other agency.

Costs for food, clothing, accommodation, transport/travel, electricity, water, phone, social spending and so forth, these are factors that must surely be relevant and considered. But as it appears, at least going by the Ministry’s responses, they are not directly used when determining benefit rates.

So if this is true, then the Jobseeker Support, Supported Living Payment and Sole Parent Support benefit rates are simply set by the government of the day as they see fit, purely at will, possibly by following some form of undisclosed unscientific guidance or advice given by ‘experts’ within the Ministry. It is then presented to Parliament, either as a legislative instrument in the form of an Order in Council, approved by the Governor General, or in the form of a Bill. Only the latter would need to be read and voted on, to have it passed into law.

The Ministry, does appear to try and tell us that benefit rates are decided on by the government, then acknowledged or signed off by the Governor General and/or Parliament, so as if their own ‘Policy Development’ staff and management would have nothing to do with processes being followed. A look at their website on the page(s) found via this following hyperlink would suggest otherwise:
https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/policy-development/index.html

That is what they seem to be telling the OIA requester, although the information on their website says the following:
Developing policy

The policy group is the government’s principal provider of policy and social sector advice.”

More about the Ministry’s policy branch can be found on their website by clicking the following hyperlink:
https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/about-msd/our-structure/policy-cluster.html

Of particular interest to readers will be the following information:

Employment and Income Support

The Employment and Income Support policy group comprises three teams:
Youth Employment and Labour Market team: responsible for policy development and advice relating to labour market change and demand, and long term benefit dependency. The team focuses particularly on improving the education, employment and quality of life outcomes of disadvantaged young people.

Health and Disability Employment team: responsible for policy advice on addressing the barriers to employment faced by people with a health condition or disability. The team focuses on ensuring disabled people and people with health conditions are supported to obtain work and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Income Support team: responsible for producing policy advice on a range of topical income support issues. The team focuses on ensuring that the benefit system is fair and robust and improving financial incentives to work or prepare for work.

(as shown on the MSD website on 21 May 2018)

 

And that last bit tells us quite clearly, where MSD’s ‘Employment and Income Support’ policy group’s main focus lies:
A ‘fair’ and ‘robust’ benefit system, obvoiusly primarily geared to ‘improving financial incentives to work or prepare for work’. And so they have for years been giving government ‘advice’ on policy that then led to actions like abolishing the former ‘Sickness Benefit’, to merging sick and disabled with other ‘jobseekers’ into the ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit, and to leaving those on the only slightly higher ‘Supported Living Payment’ benefit languish in abject poverty, while they are too severely and permanently sick and/or disabled to engage in any forms of work on the open job market, which is one where they are expected to compete with the physically and mentally fit.

 

Author’s note:

For information on Legislative Instruments and Orders in Council, see the following links:
http://www.pco.govt.nz/about-legislation#lis
http://www.legislation.govt.nz/glossary.aspx
https://www.dpmc.govt.nz/our-business-units/cabinet-office/executive-council
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_in_Council

 
 

G) CONCLUSION

So in summary, we can conclude that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) takes a position that it is not, at least not directly, involved in a process of determining base or main benefit rates. It appears to claim there are no considerations made in relation to having particular living costs be reflected in benefit rates – as components or parts of the whole base rate. Although the Ministry does clearly have a ‘Policy Team’, a ‘Policy Branch’ or ‘Policy Development Branch’, that does most certainly offer advice on various policy matters to the government of the day, it appears to disassociate itself from having any significant input in the setting of benefit rates. They do this, although the Ministry has an Income Support team that is responsible for producing policy advice on a range of topical income support issues.

We are told it is simply the government, or rather the Minister of Social Development, asking the Governor General for approval of an Order in Council, when changing benefit rates, shown in the schedules of the Act. Or alternatively, if there are more significant changes planned, it is the government presenting a Bill to Parliament, seeking the introduction of, or major changes to, benefits and corresponding (new) rates, relying on a majority vote to pass such a legislative change into law.

Hence, in our view, we are back to the business of passing the buck, the splitting of hair, and more obfuscation and pretence, as it is simply not all that credible, that MSD and their researchers and policy advisors play no significant, effective role in the way benefits are set. It appears that the advice that must nevertheless be given to governments is simply not based on any scientifically gathered statistical data on ordinary, average, basic living costs people in New Zealand have to pay. It is advice that appears to rather be driven by considerations of a few factors, including such that ensure people are kept poor enough, to feel an ‘incentive’ to work, or at least to study and thus prepare themselves for work on the open job market.

When some wages are so low, that many working full time are now also considered to be ‘working poor’, and when those working are struggling to meet basic living costs, then the Ministry appears to be advising government to still keep benefits lower than such wages, so that people have ‘incentives’ to work. That is basically where many are left in modern day New Zealand, kept poor, whether working, or worse still, even poorer if unable to find work, or unable to work altogether.

It took MSD well over two and a half years to respond in a more qualified manner to these OIA requests, seeking simple, clear and honest answers on how benefit rates would be set, and whether basic living costs would possibly be considered to be reflected in the form of components of the base or main benefits. Even then, they avoided to offer more clarity. And as so often, the Ombudsmen did not appear to be too interested in getting more appropriate responses from MSD. Worse still, the complaint made already in late Nov. 2015, was left lying around for over two years.

In any case, whatever considerations may be made, whatever advice the Ministry may give to the government, in the end it is the government of the day in New Zealand that sets the social security benefit rates at will, as it sees fit, based on advice received and its own judgment, as explained above.

 
 

Quest for Justice

 

23 May 2018

 
 

Here is a link that will load a PDF version of this post, which some may find easier to read and study. If the links in that document may not work with your browser, copy and paste them into a search engine box and you will find the actual documents or website pages that way:
Social Security Benefit Rates in N.Z., Set at Will by Govt, Ignoring Evidence, NZSJB, 23.05.18

 

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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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MSD RELEASES OIA INFO ON DR BRATT’S AND OTHER SENIOR HEALTH ADVISORS’ HIGH SALARIES – NEARLY 4 YEARS LATE


MSD RELEASES OIA INFO ON DR BRATT’S AND OTHER SENIOR HEALTH AND DISABILITY ADVISORS’ HIGH SALARIES – NEARLY 4 YEARS LATE

 

Top ‘Advisors’ get paid huge salaries to make absurd claims like the benefit is a “drug”, and that sick, disabled beneficiaries must be moved off benefits into paid employment on the open, competitive job-market, as that offers “health benefits” to them

 
 

CONTENTS:

A). BACKGROUND
B). MSD’S RELUCTANCE TO RELEASE REQUESTED SALARY INFORMATION FOR DR BRATT AND OTHER SENIOR ADVISORS
C). OMBUDSMAN COMPLAINT
D). HUGE SALARIES PAID TO INFLUENCE GPs AND OTHER PRACTITIONERS
E). MSD AND DR BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING ‘EVIDENCE’
F). PUBLIC AND STATE SERVICES SALARY INFORMATION SOURCES – ALLOWING SOME LIMITED COMPARISONS
G). CONCLUSION

 
 

A). BACKGROUND

On 11 June 2013 an Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) request was sent to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), listing 12 separate requests for specified information to be made available. Besides of seeking information on referrals of Work and Income (WINZ) clients to designated doctors, on Medical Appeal Board (MAB) hearings, and on various other matters, the requester did with question ’11.’ also ask for salary information on the Principal Health Advisor (PHA) Dr David Bratt, the Principal Disability Advisor (PDA) Anne Hawker and former Senior (Health) Advisor Dr David Rankin.

Dr David Bratt, a general practitioner (GP), has held his then newly created position with the Ministry since late 2007, same as Anne Hawker, and Dr David Rankin worked for the Ministry from 2006 to 2011 (2006-2009 for Work and Income (WINZ), 2009-2011 for Child, Youth and Families (CYFS)).

The requester had learned of Dr Rankin’s and Dr Bratt’s involvement in the development of new internal working processes, of welfare reforms and major changes to the benefit system, that would be affecting sick and disabled who are dependent on benefits, including the way they were to be examined and assessed for work capacity (also done by ‘Designated Doctors’ for WINZ).

The OIA information requester had come across a fair number of controversial, apparently biased “presentations” by Dr David Bratt, in which he likened benefit dependence to “drug dependence”, and obviously tried to influence health professionals by promoting supposed “health benefits of work”. Some at times bizarre and bold claims were made in such presentations to general practitioner conferences and other stakeholder meetings.

Other information he obtained, which put into question the professional competency and conduct of Dr Bratt as a trained general medical practitioner, would further raise his concerns, but some of this was not yet at hand when the information requests were made to MSD. It was the requester’s view, that as a practitioner of a science based profession, Dr Bratt should not be making certain unproved claims, presumptions and comments.

As the requester had himself made rather disturbing previous experiences with a so-called ‘Designated Doctor’ commissioned and paid by MSD, when being examined for his entitlement to an Invalid’s Benefit – based on limited capacity to work, he was especially concerned about some particular comments and claims made by Dr Bratt in some of his many presentations to health professionals, and also to the media (including the ‘NZ Doctor’ magazine).

Upon receiving the information request the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) responded first with a letter dated 12 July 2013. While some of the asked for information was made available, other information, including the requested Advisors’ salary information, was being withheld under section 9(2)(a) of the OIA. The explanation given was that this was necessary “to protect their privacy” (i.e. the ‘privacy’ of the Advisors).

As the requester could not accept the withholding grounds given by MSD, he did on 09 August 2013 write a formal complaint to the Office of Ombudsmen, who would look into his complaint, but only after a very long delay.

It would be no earlier than the 30th of October 2013 that the requester would get a first formal reply from a Manager at the Ombudsmen’s Office, stating that the then Ombudsman Ron Paterson would be looking into the matter. A separate OIA related complaint by the requester would later be added to this case and its file reference, and the whole investigation would take an extremely long time.

While only some of the requesters concerns would eventually be resolved over the following years, the issue regarding the withheld Advisors’ salary information would drag on endlessly, until well into early 2017. Only after ‘consultation’ with the new Ombudsman (formerly the Deputy), Mr Leo Donnelly, would MSD finally send the requester some information on the “salary bands” covering the Advisor’s salaries, which was by way of an email dated 11 April 2017.

 
 

B). MSD’S RELUCTANCE TO RELEASE REQUESTED SALARY INFORMATION FOR DR BRATT AND OTHER SENIOR ADVISORS

 

THE OIA REQUEST

The following information was sought by the requester under request or question ’11.’ in his letter dated 11 June 2013:

11. A detailed list stating the individual annual before tax salaries, plus any additional bonuses or the likes, for the following senior and key-role advisory staff of the Ministry of Social Development:

a) Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development;
b) Anne Hawker, Principal Disability Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development;
c) Dr David Rankin, Senior Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development.

As I have reason to believe that this information may have been withheld following earlier requests, due to stated privacy concerns under the Privacy Act 1993, I wish to state that I nevertheless insist on these salaries to be made available under the Official Information Act 1982, as I believe that it is in the public interest that such information is made available.

Due to all three professionals being expected to perform their tasks as leading public service employees responsibly and diligently at the highest professional and ethical standards, and also being expected to possess the particular, high quality and appropriate qualifications required to do their work, and for the fact that public accountability is a core requirement for all those professional roles, any rights to withhold this information under the Official Information Act 1982, or the Privacy Act 1993, should be outweighed by the public’s deserved interest. The public has an interest in transparency, simply to receive assurance that remuneration paid does match competency, qualification, responsibility and performance for each role. The public has a right to assess whether remuneration paid is a clear and fair reflection of these three professionals’ abilities to meet the expected high standards of service-delivery and any requirements.

In any case the annual before tax salary – and any possible bonus or similar – paid to Dr David Bratt as Principal Health Advisor should be made available, as the public and clients of MSD truly deserve to have full transparency in this matter, given the fact that his role is that of a very senior advisor and leader in a crucial area of decision-making over sensitive, high risk health and disability issues. The New Zealand public expects that Dr Bratt leads in his advisory position by applying a high level of responsibility, of ethical standards and professional conduct at all times, as an exemplary manager of any staff working under or with him. He is also entrusted to ensure balanced, objective, reliable, scientifically based and professional standards are applied by his subordinate, overseen staff in their duty of advising on health and disability matters that affect thousands of clients of the Ministry. The trust and respect the public gives such a crucial, senior advisor must surely justify the publication of the before tax salary and other earnings of Dr Bratt.

It is publicly known, and important to note, that Dr David Bratt has since at least 2010 made numerous public and also non public presentations in his role as Principal Health Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development (and Work and Income). It is a concern to some, that he has in doing so drawn comparisons between “benefit dependence” and “drug dependence”, referred to “the benefit” as an “addictive debilitating drug”, used statistical data and supposed “medical” information based on apparently selective, in part quite likely unproved medical or scientific findings. These were apparently largely based on “findings” by a particular school of thought of “experts” that includes professional “specialists” as Professor Mansel Aylward from the ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ at Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom. There are evidently other schools of thought in relation to psychosocial and disability research, which appear to not have been considered and presented by Dr Bratt. This raises concerns about his personal, preferential choices of information. Hence the public deserves to know also, as to how the presentations that Dr Bratt has delivered as basically Work and Income authorised information, can be considered objective, reasonable, fair and balanced, and thus be acceptable to MSD.

The public and Work and Income clients do in view of this have justified reasons to obtain information on Dr Bratt’s annual salary and other income from the public purse, to allow them to assess, whether the remuneration is a good spend for the services Dr Bratt actually delivers for the Ministry to them.

If you may not be familiar with the presentations referred to above, I wish to make you aware of PDF or PowerPoint documents to be found under these following links to websites, which were clearly created by (or for) Dr Bratt, to use for his public and partly not so public presentations to general practitioners, designated doctors, medical trainers and others. These links are:

http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf
(‘Ready, Steady, Crook – Are we killing our patients with kindness?’, Dr Bratt + A. Hawker, MSD, Christchurch 2010, see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35)

http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/2012/Fri_DaVinci_1400_Bratt_Medical%20Certificates%20are%20Clinical%20Instruments%20too%20-%20June%202012.pdf
(‘Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too’, Dr Bratt, MSD, 2012, see pages 3, 16 and 33 for details)

http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=bratt%20ppt&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rgpn.org.nz%2FNetwork%2Fmedia%2Fdocuments%2FConference2011%2FD-Bratt.ppt&ei=ZO9QUYjZApGSiAegmICIDA&usg=AFQjCNFEdYN_dDW9BAZvZo_cQpC2rFyelg
(‘Pressure / No Pressure – Strategies for Pushy Patients’, a link to a PowerPoint presentation by Dr Bratt and Anne Hawker, where again on page 27 a claim is made the “benefit” is an “addictive debilitating drug”).

There have also been articles written on Dr David Bratt as Principal Health Advisor in the ‘NZ Doctor’ magazine, which clearly state his very one-sided views and interpretations of particular health issues, on the effects of “worklessness”, his intentions of getting sick and disabled into work, and his comments “the benefit” is “addictive” like a “drug”. An article in the online edition on 01 August 2012 was titled ‘Harms lurk for benefit addicts’ and written by Lucy Ratcliffe, (see link: http://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2012/august-2012/1-august-2012/harms-lurk-for-benefit-addicts.aspx).

A critical opinion on this one article which was published that magazine’s online edition by Tim Walker Nelson on 29 August 2012, titled “Questioning the direction of MSD policy” (see link: http://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2012/august-2012/29-august-2012/questioning-the-direction-of-msd-policy.aspx ). It raised the valid question about what kind of Principal Health Advisor the Ministry of Social Development has employed for such a serious advisory role.

While the public may find it astonishing, that the Ministry of Social Development supports, authorises or at least tolerates such presentations, and these apparently somewhat potentially biased, unprofessional and unscientific comparisons by Dr Bratt, it certainly has a justified interest and a right to be informed about the remuneration for such “work” performed by him.”

 

Here is a hyperlink to a PDF file containing the whole set of original OIA request questions from 11 June 2013 that were sent to MSD in a letter:
M.S.D., O.I.A., rqst, DDr, MAB, PHA, RHA, training + salaries, anon, 11.06.2013

 

MSD’s INITIAL OIA RESPONSE

In her initial and supposedly ‘final’ response to the requester’s OIA request, dated 12 July 2013, Debbie Power, Deputy Chief Executive for Work and Income (at MSD) gave the following answer in relation to request ‘11.’ in the requester’s original letter:
“I am withholding the salaries of the Principal Health Advisor and the Principal Disability Advisor, and Senior Advisor under section 9(2)(a) to protect their privacy. In this instance I believe the need to protect the privacy of these individuals outweighs the public interest in the information.”

This was although the Deputy Chief Executive was more forthcoming with some other information on Regional Health Advisors and Regional Disability Advisors and their qualifications, placements and names, and also on Medical Appeal Boards appointed by MSD.

Here are links to 2 PDFs with authentic scan copies of Ms Power’s full and ‘final’ response to the OIA request, being her letter dated 12 July 2013 (and attachments):
MSD, O.I.A. Request, DDs, MABs, training, ltr fr. D. Power, C.E., w. MAB table, anon., 12.07.13
MSD, O.I.A. Request, Designated Dr Training, 2008, material used, D. Power, C.E., 12.07.13

 

Author’s Comments:

From that refusal to release salary information on Drs Bratt, Hawker and Rankin, it must be concluded that MSD follows a very strict guideline by not releasing any salary information on individuals it employs, and also, that the Deputy Chief Executive did not even consider releasing a hint of information on such highly paid individual Advisors. That may perhaps have been so, because they get paid a rather high amount, which could raise questions about whether they actually deserved such salary rates for the particular roles and work they were and still are performing.

 
 

C). OMBUDSMAN COMPLAINT

Somewhat dissatisfied with the overall response by Debbie Power from MSD, the OIA requester did consequently write a complaint to the then Chief Ombudsman, Ms Beverley Wakem, asking for an investigation into the matter.

Here is a link to a PDF with the authentic transcript of the letter sent to the Chief Ombudsman, dated 09 August 2013:
Ombudsman, complaint, OIA rqst to MSD, info refused, Advisors etc., publ. interest, anon, 09.08.13

In relation to question ’11.’ in his OIA information request to MSD, the complainant explained and argued the following:

“The Ministry has also withheld information I sought per question 11 about salaries of the Principal Health Advisor, Dr David Bratt, the Principal Disability Advisor Anne Hawker, and Senior Advisor Dr David Rankin, this under section 9 (2) a of the O.I.A.. Debbie Power writes: “In this instance I believe the need to protect the privacy of these individuals outweighs the public interest in this information”.

I take issue with this, particularly for the case of Dr David Bratt, who is as Principal Health Advisor in a very senior advisory position, where he holds core responsibilities, including the supervision, management, training, mentoring, and instructing of the Regional Health Advisors that MSD have in each of their Regional Offices. He is together with Anne Hawker jointly responsible to supervise, manage, train, mentor and in certain cases instruct the Regional Disability Advisors. Both Principal Advisors also work with Health and Disability Coordinators placed at each Regional Office of MSD. Dr Bratt has input in decision-making on applicants and beneficiaries suffering ill health, disabilities and incapacity. Also is Dr Bratt responsible for advising the Ministry and Minister of Social Development on health and disability matters in general, which contributes to policy formation and implementation.

The subordinate Regional Health and Disability Advisors fulfill highly responsible roles in liaising with various medical professionals, Work and Income case managers, and other internal and outside parties and agencies. A core responsibility they have is, to assist in the referrals of certain clients suffering health conditions, disabilities and resulting incapacity to Ministry paid and selected designated doctors or other specialists. They are in charge also of examining medical reports, in assessing medical conditions and disabilities, and of making important recommendations to case managers, who then rely on such recommendations when deciding on benefit entitlements, possible obligations, on treatment or other measures that may be relevant and applied from case to case.

The roles, tasks and responsibilities of Regional- and Principal Health and Disability Advisors are based on medical and rehabilitation related expertise, and certain qualifications in such areas are required to work in their important roles. One does not need to elaborate further, to make clear, that they are personnel that base their knowledge, competency and decision-making on medical and related sciences. It is already of concern that some of these advisors seem to lack a solid medical or rehabilitation background, which a recent response to an O.I.A. request shows.

All the three persons listed in my question 11 have been, and in certainly two cases still are, public servants working for the Ministry of Social Development and their main department Work and Income. As public servants they are paid for by revenue gathered as taxes from the tax paying public, which will represent the majority of the public in New Zealand. Some tax payers rely on Work and Income and other services by the Ministry of Social Development, also relying on Dr Bratt’s advice.

While no grave questions may arise re Anne Hawker or Dr Rankin, there have been increasing concerns raised about Dr David Bratt’s conduct, certain ones of his “presentations”, which he has made to health professional organisations, such as GP conferences, also to trainers and educators in the medical profession, same as to designated doctors.

Dr David Bratt has continuously made bizarre claims in his presentations, that benefit dependence is like “drug dependence”, is “addictive”, and therefore harmful for the beneficiaries’ health. He has most strongly advocated for the acknowledgment of the value and supposed “health benefits” of work. He makes these claims in a wider, general way, commonly meaning open employment, and his statements are also based on a selected few “reports” and “findings” by a small number of medical “experts” from one school of thought, mostly from the United Kingdom.

One such expert is a Professor Mansel Aylward, who has been widely criticised in the UK for his involvement with the controversial work capability tests used by ATOS Healthcare as sole assessor for the Department of Work and Pensions. It has been reported that the assessments, which he was involved in designing, are unsuitable, ill designed and do not give sufficient consideration for mental health sufferers. This criticism has also come from organisations of the medical profession in the UK. Professor Aylward, and a few of his colleagues, are based at a research department called ‘Unum Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ at Cardiff University in Wales. It has been established and funded with the support of controversial US insurance giant Unum Insurance. Professor Aylward and his colleagues (like for instance Gordon Waddell), portray many illnesses as being nothing more than “illness belief” the sufferers adhere to, which is an irresponsibly dismissive approach, taken to particular physical and certainly many mental health conditions.

To summarise my complaint, Dr Bratt is making unproved claims, is making comparisons between benefit dependence and “drug dependence” which are not scientifically proved, and which can only be seen as a highly questionable, and even a biased way of dismissing other aspects that may explain that many beneficiaries suffer ill health, and conditions that do often not improve. One may fairly ask, is Dr Bratt not confusing cause and result, and with his influence making statements that are untrue and can lead to serve only to justify the Ministry of Social Development to apply approaches and pressures on sick and disabled beneficiaries that will cause more harm than benefits to those affected. The question may also be asked, is wage and salary receipt then also not “addictive” like “a drug”?

Dr Bratt is increasingly being criticised and challenged, as certain media reports show. I will provide some information on his controversial, disputed presentations and comments by others in PDF files attached to the email carrying this letter.

It is in my view, and that of many in the public, that Dr Bratt has to be held accountable by his employer and also the medical profession, to which he still belongs as a registered general practitioner. The public, paying his salary, most certainly also deserve to know whether they get the correct “value” for money with this gentleman continuing to be employed by the Ministry. The public deserves to know how much he is paid for in salary and additional payments, to be able to assess whether he is paid appropriately or not, for the questionable quality of advice he appears to deliver.

As Dr Bratt clearly enjoys his position and income at the expense of the wider public, who pay him, it is certainly a right to the public to know what his payments are.”

 

OMBUDSMEN OFFICE RESPONSES

It took the Office of Ombudsmen almost three months to provide a first reply to the complainant’s letter, mainly due the fact that their Office’s human and financial resources were at that time extremely stretched. But a letter by a ‘Manager’, dated 30 October 2013, was later sent to the complainant and information requester, explaining to him that the then new Ombudsman Ron Paterson would be investigating the complaint matters, which he had raised.

Here is a link to a PDF with a scan copy of that anonymised letter from the Office of the Ombudsmen, dated 30 Oct. 2013:
Ombudsman, complaint 36xxxx, MSD, OIA info withheld, incl. Advisor sal., reply, anon, 30.10.2013

As it is not uncommon, the Ombudsman would later add at least one other complaint made by the same complainant against MSD (dated 9 March 2014) to this complaint file, and process these in one complaints process, which would eventually take much longer than ever expected.

The first letter dated 30 October 2013 would be followed by further letters dated 19 March, 27 May and 30 July 2014, and the complainant would be informed of an investigator having been assigned to review the file, that a reply from MSD had been received in mid January 2014, that the review was taking longer than expected, and that another complaint by him, dated 9 March 2014, had been added to this file. A letter dated 19 September 2014 (from a separate ‘Manager’ at the Ombudsmen’s Office) contained few new details, and informed the requester only that Dr Ron Paterson would now investigate the complaint. That last letter though appeared to be more concerned with the newly added complaint about a separate OIA request that the requester had made to MSD on 16 Jan. 2014.

As the process was dragging on, the complainant and OIA requester phoned the investigator at the Office of Ombudsmen, who looked after the file, on 11 November 2014. He then learned, besides of other information he received, that the Ombudsman required advice from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on the requested release of salary information about MSD Advisors.

In a letter dated 19 Nov. 2014 the ‘Manager’ at the Ombudsmen’s Auckland Office advised the complainant that new information had been released by MSD on the second complaint under the same file reference, but offered no new information on the first complaint from 09 August 2013.

But for the complainant (and OIA requester) none of the complaints would be considered as being “resolved”, while the Ombudsmen Office appeared to think that at least the added, second complaint had been satisfactorily “answered” to by MSD. After the complainant wrote to their Office yet again, he received a further letter dated 4 May 2015 – from Ombudsman Prof. Ron Paterson.

Dr Paterson only wrote this in relation to the ‘First request’:
“This complaint relates to the Ministry’s response for official information about the assessment of entitlement for a medical related benefit, and about advisory staff including Dr Bratt. The information in relation to this issue has taken time to review, due to the complex issues involved in relation to some of the information withheld under section 9(2)(a) of the Official Information Act 1982.”

“I appreciate that the investigations into these complaints may be taking longer than you anticipated. This is due to the volume of complaints being managed by the Office. However, progress is being made, and we anticipate being in a position to update you on these matters again shortly.”

With a letter dated 22 May 2015 Ron Paterson would then present his provisional decision on the other – second- complaint filed with the Ombudsman, also re OIA info withheld by MSD, and that full response by the Ombudsman can be seen here:
Ombudsman, complaint, O.I.A. to MSD, Dr Bratt, publ. int., prov. dec., compl., 22.05.15
Ombudsman, complaint, O.I.A. to MSD, Dr Bratt, public interest, prov. dec., hilit, 22.05.15

Some of that complaint related information was already published on this blog under the following post:
‘THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (MSD) AND DR DAVID BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING “EVIDENCE”, CLAIMING “WORKLESSNESS” CAUSES POOR HEALTH’:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/msd-and-dr-david-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-claiming-worklessness-causes-poor-health/
(Read chapters ‘C)’, ‘D)’ and ‘E)’ re the lack of evidence and flawed evidence used by MSD, and especially ‘F)’ about the Ombudsman’s actions – or rather missing action – in regards to Dr Bratt and his presentations, and his reported deletion of all emails to and from another external ‘Advisor’.)

New, current PDF version (as on 19.09.16):

Click to access msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-publ-post-19-09-16.pdf

Other posts that provide further info on how MSD selectively presents information on ‘evidence’ and ‘advice’ received from ‘experts’, and on the treatment of sick and disabled on benefits:
THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT’S SELECTIVE AND POOR RESPONSES TO NEW O.I.A. REQUESTS ON BENEFITS, ADVISORS, REPORTS, MENTAL HEALTH AND SOLE PARENT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/msds-selective-and-poor-responses-to-new-oia-requests-on-benefits-advisors-reports-mental-health-and-sole-parent-employment-services/

A PDF version of the same post is downloadable via the following link:

Click to access msds-selective-poor-responses-to-new-o-i-a-requests-post-nzsjb-upd-27-11-15.pdf

MENTAL HEALTH AND SOLE PARENT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES – MSD WITHHOLDS O.I.A. INFORMATION, THAT MAY PROVE THEIR TRIALS A FAILURE:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/mental-health-and-sole-parent-employment-services-msd-withholds-o-i-a-information-that-may-prove-their-trials-a-failure/

 

Soon after this, the complainant received yet another letter dated 25 May 2015, which referred directly to his complaint that also related to the salary information withheld by MSD, and in it Professor Paterson informed him that he had written to the Privacy Commissioner to obtain advice.

See this link for a PDF with a scan copy of that letter from the Ombudsman dated 25 May 2015:
Ombudsman, complaint 36xxxx, MSD, OIA info withheld, incl. Advisor sal., update, anon, 25.05.15

A further letter dated 19 August 2015 would only inform the complainant that additional advice had been received from the Privacy Commissioner, and was due to be reviewed. Nevertheless, the matter continued to drag on endlessly, and the complainant asked for yet further updates on 15 Nov. 2015, and again during 2016 (11 Feb. and later), which showed very little – if any – progress in this particular complaint matter being made. In an email from 18 Dec. 2016 the Ombudsman’s investigator indicated that correspondence re the issues complained about was being prepared, and was about to be signed off in January 2016.

Meanwhile, after responding to another complaint matter under the same file reference, last with a letter dated 23 June 2016, Prof. Paterson vacated his position as Ombudsman shortly afterwards, as he had surprisingly handed in his notice only a month or so before. Little information was given to the public to explain his sudden resignation, only about two years into his 5-year appointment.

On 23 August 2016 the complainant and OIA requester then received an email from the Office of Ombudsmen, which informed him of new investigators being employed, and that his complaint would be reassigned to a new one. Also was he being informed of the departure of Prof. Ron Paterson, and that new Ombudsman Leo Donnelly was going to take over his file. He was asked whether it would resolve his information request, if MSD would provide him with the salary ranges for the advisors.

See these links for two PDFs with scan copies of the Ombudsmen Office’s email from 23 Aug. 2016, one high-lighted:
Ombudsman, complaint, 36xxxx, MSD, OIA info w-held, Advisors sal., email, anon, 23.08.16
Ombudsmen, Office of, complaint 36xxxx, MSD, OIA info w-held, email, hi-lit, 23.08.16

From 09 Nov. to 21 Dec. 2016 the complainant sent a number of concerned emails to the Office of Ombudsmen, as he now had a number of complaints waiting to be processed, but had registered no detectable progress with any of them. Then the ‘Manager’ of the Ombudsmen Office in Auckland would on 22 December 2016 eventually give him yet another email update, including for the complaint covered by this post.

He informed the complainant that a new investigator was looking into this particular complaint, and that the complainant could expect correspondence from her “shortly”.

But it took the Ombudsmen until 28 February 2017 to finally respond with a formal letter, informing that Ombudsman Leo Donnelly had decided that MSD was justified in refusing the individual salaries for the Principal Health Advisor, Dr David Bratt, the Principal Disability Advisor, Anne Hawker, and for Senior Advisor Dr David Rankin.

Nevertheless, upon consultation with the Privacy Commissioner he also decided, that MSD should be advised to release a combined or aggregated salary range for the salaries of all the three Advisors, for public transparency.

Here is a link to a PDF with a scan copy of Mr Donnelly’s letter dated 28 Feb. 2017:
Ombudsman, complaint 36xxxx, MSD, OIA info w-held, Advisors sal., ltr, L. Donnelly, 28.02.17

A final decision, dated 12 April 2017, was sent by Ombudsman Donnelly to the requester. In it he commented that he had consulted with the individuals concerned, and that MSD had agreed that the salary information could be released by showing the lowest figure of the three salary bands and the highest figure of the same.

MSD had already on 11 April 2017 sent an email with some moderately useful information on the aggregated salaries, or combined salary ranges, covering all salaries of the three Advisors for MSD (see further below for details).

Here are links to PDFs with scan copies of the letter by Leo Donnelly dated 12 April 2017:
Ombudsman, complaint, 36xxxx, 16.01.14, MSD OIA, Advisor salaries, fin. dec., L. Donnelly, 12.04.17
Ombudsman, L. Donnelly, complt 36xxxx, MSD O.I.A., Advisor Salaries, fin. dec., hi-lit, 12.04.17

 
 

D). HUGE SALARIES PAID TO INFLUENCE GPs AND OTHER PRACTITIONERS

 

MSD’s FINAL OIA RESPONSE

It was on 11 April 2017, when the OIA information requester suddenly received an email from a person with the title ‘Senior Advisor’ at the ‘Ombudsman and Privacy Complaint Services’ at MSD. The email was titled ‘Official Information Act Request – 11/06/13 – Revision’.

Referring to their earlier response from 12 July 2013, and a few other details, the MSD Advisor now suddenly informed the requester of the following:

“Following dialogue with the Office of the Ombudsman, the Ministry has now revised its view and notes that, whilst the Official Information Act provides good reason to withhold the actual salaries of Dr Bratt, Ms Hawker and Dr Rankin on the basis of their privacy, the public interest requires that further information be released.

The Office of the Ombudsman considers that salary range information can be released as an appropriate balance between privacy and an agency’s accountability for the value they have accorded a particular role.

Therefore, I can advise that the salaries of Dr Bratt, Ms Hawker and Dr Rankin fall within a range of $120,669 and $234,837.

Here are links to PDFs with scan copies of that email from MSD from 11 April 2017, one with highlighted text:
MSD, OIA Rqst fr. 11.06.13, Advisor salaries, Bratt, Hawker, Rankin, Revision, released 11.04.17
MSD, O.I.A. Rqst 11.06.13, Advisor Salaries, Bratt, Hawker, Rankin, Rev., email, hi-lit, 11.04.17
MSD, OIA Rqst, 11.06.13, Advisor salaries, Bratt, Hawker, Rankin, Rev., mail rel., 11.04.17
MSD, O.I.A. Rqst, 11.06.13, Advisor Salaries, Bratt, Hawker, Rankin, Revision, email, hi-lit, 11.04.17

 

LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS FROM THE OIA INFORMATION

This now reveals enough details to draw some relatively safe conclusions from the information, and we can now consider that Dr David Bratt, the “expert” working as Principal Health Advisor for MSD since late 2007 is getting paid well over $200,000 per annum to present such bizarre, questionable ‘presentations’ where he likens benefit dependence to “drug dependence”.

For memory, here are just a few of these ‘presentations’ he gave to GP and other conferences:

Click to access C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf


(‘Ready, Steady, Crook – Are we killing our patients with kindness?’, Dr Bratt + A. Hawker, MSD, Christchurch 2010, see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35)

Click to access Fri_DaVinci_1400_Bratt_Medical%20Certificates%20are%20Clinical%20Instruments%20too%20-%20June%202012.pdf


(‘Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too’, Dr Bratt, MSD, 2012, see pages 3, 16 and 33 for details)

http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=bratt%20ppt&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rgpn.org.nz%2FNetwork%2Fmedia%2Fdocuments%2FConference2011%2FD-Bratt.ppt&ei=ZO9QUYjZApGSiAegmICIDA&usg=AFQjCNFEdYN_dDW9BAZvZo_cQpC2rFyelg
(‘Pressure / No Pressure – Strategies for Pushy Patients’, a link to a PowerPoint presentation by Dr Bratt and Anne Hawker, where again on page 27 a claim is made the “benefit” is an “addictive debilitating drug”).

Click to access WS%20142%20Bratt%20-%20Shifting%20Your%20Primary%20Focus%20to%20Health%20and%20Capacity.pdf


(‘Shifting Your Primary Focus to Health and Capacity – A New Paradigm’, presentation by Prof. Sir Mansel Aylward, Director Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, Cardiff University; Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor, Ministry of Social Development; joint presentation at GP CME Presentation – June 2013; questioning “traditional” diagnosis on a medical model basis, and promoting the Aylward version of the “bio psycho-social model”, and even promoting ‘Long Acting Reversible Contraception’ to improve employability of women, see page 45!!!)

Click to access bratt-happy-docs-doctors-and-documents-presentn-2013-p-1-18-o-i-a-reply-09-2013.pdf


Click to access bratt-happy-docs-doctors-and-documents-presentn-2013-p-19-38-o-i-a-reply-09-2013.pdf


(‘Happy Docs – true generalism with Welfare Reform’, RNZCGP Presentation – July 2013, with the usual one-sided information that “work is generally good for you“, trying to explain some welfare changes, but now avoiding the “benefit“ to “drug“ comparison, after media and other attention to this)

 

We can presume now, that it is Dr David Bratt, who gets paid a salary at the upper end of the mentioned aggregate of salary bands paid by MSD, as he is now the most senior Advisor that MSD employs for health and disability related advice on welfare policy and processes. He commenced in his newly created role in late 2007 and has thus been in the job for nearly ten years. Also was his role created to oversee the many Regional Health Advisors, Regional Disability Advisors and Health and Disability Coordinators based at MSD’s Regional Offices all over the country. He is involved in policy advice and formation, he fronts or attends many meetings where MSD and WINZ communicate their policy, processes and intentions to professional organisations like GP conferences and the likes, he has consulted with overseas consultants like Prof. Mansel Aylward from the U.K., he has travelled to various national and international meetings and conferences, and is also the to go person for media.

Given the importance of his role, and his seniority, it is beyond doubt, that he must be getting the highest of all salaries. Anne Hawker is employed in a similar advisory role, for disability matters, but her qualifications and her lower involvement and publicity reveal, that she must be getting a lower salary than Dr Bratt. Even the once Senior (Health) Advisor Dr David Rankin, who held senior positions with CYFS and WINZ from 2006 to 2011, also being involved in preparing and formulating important changes to internal processes at WINZ from 2006 to 2009, will in our view not have received a salary that would have been over 200,000 dollars per year then, he is likely to have earned something in between what we guess Ms Hawker receives and what Dr Bratt receives.

The lower end of the salary bands will also represent the figure that one or two of the professionals may have received at the beginning of their engagements with MSD, which goes back a decade or more (Dr Rankin), when salaries were a fair bit lower anyway. So we believe, Dr Bratt may now be earning close to a quarter of a million a year, for doing his “work” in redesigning assessment criteria and processes for sick and disabled, and to implement and apply new policy across the WINZ branches and related sectors, in collaboration with the Regional Advisors and other stake holders. He had a previous role as ‘GP Liaison and Primary Care Advisor’ with The Capital and Coast District Health Board (DHB) for up to five years. That previous advisory role may have given him an advantage in obtaining the PHA role with MSD in the first place, and it will also have assisted him in achieving an agreement on a handsome salary with MSD.

In other OIA requests to MSD, one dated 16 Jan. 2014, the same requester had sought references and sources for the bizarre claims made by Dr Bratt, and asked for the scientific reports that were supposed to support the many repeated comments made by Dr Bratt. The responses received were mostly lacking proper, detailed evidence and offered only generalised, unspecific explanations and references. A complaint made to the Ombudsmen’s Office also only resulted in Prof. Paterson basically refusing to further investigate matters, as he simply accepted the unsatisfactory responses by MSD, and wrote, that MSD had justified reasons to withhold or refuse certain information that had been requested.

Ombudsman Paterson would even refuse to investigate a separate Ombudsmen Act complaint against MSD and Dr Bratt, where the complainant had asked that the apparently sudden, wholesale and unexplained deletion of all emails with certain contacts by Dr Bratt should be investigated. He alleged it happened in breach of the Public Records Act. It was soon after that when Dr Paterson suddenly resigned from his position as Ombudsman, about three years before his 5-year term was up.

 

HIGH SALARIES FOR ADVISORS TO TRY TO INFLUENCE HEALTH PROFESSIONALS

It is almost beyond belief, that MSD would pay such high salaries (now released) to such Advisors, who appear to have been hired and employed by MSD with the intention to change and “reform” the assessment criteria and processes for sick and disabled on benefits, to change the Social Security Act 1964 itself, to facilitate the virtual off-loading of such beneficiaries from welfare payment receipt, and to usher them into whatever paid employment deemed “suitable”, that may or may not exist on the wider open job market.

‘Experts’ such as Dr Bratt, who have evidently fallen for the supposed ‘evidence’ presented by mostly UK based ‘experts’ such as Prof. Mansel Aylward, at the former UNUM Provident funded ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ based at Cardiff University in Wales, are paid high salaries, while giving ‘presentations’ with questionable, even untrue and clearly biased information to health professionals. They are employed not only to advise WINZ staff and outside contacts on MSD’s processes and requirements, but also to try and influence such health and medical professionals, so to make them conduct examinations and assessments that may result in reports which ultimately serve the interests of MSD and WINZ, as other evidence has since shown. The abolition of the former Sickness Benefit and merger of that category into the ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit, thus treating persons with serious enough health conditions and disabilities as “job seekers”, is just one example of what has resulted from the input of these Advisors.

Even Dr Rankin, who worked for MSD and WINZ from 2006 to 2011 was involved in the changes within, and he was also involved in the training of Designated Doctors, which was a measure never taken before by MSD, during at least 2008 – possibly still happening in some form to this day.

 

Here are some links to information that shows how Dr Rankin was also instrumental – as a highly paid ‘Advisor’ – in changing processes for the assessment of sick and disabled on benefits, to facilitate the reconsideration of their capacity for work, and thus shifting them off benefits, by training ‘Designated Doctors’ paid by MSD:

Click to access msd-working-nz-sdd-role-of-design-drs-memo-d-rankin-hi-lit-27-03-2006.pdf


Click to access msd-sdd-dr-d-rankin-gp-second-opinion-memo-05-06-2007.pdf


Click to access msd-design-dr-training-workshop-and-hd-coordntr-info-sheet-rankin-bratt-12-08-2008.pdf


Click to access msd-working-nz-work-foc-suppt-designated-doctor-training-resources-memo-2008.pdf


Click to access msd-des-dr-training-comm-requirements-j-russell-m-mortensen-memo-23-01-2008.pdf


Click to access msd-des-dr-training-comm-requiremts-j-russell-m-mortensen-memo-hi-lit-23-01-2008.pdf


Click to access msd-design-dr-fee-adjustment-proposal-dr-d-bratt-memo-copy-hi-lit-19-11-2008.pdf


(it can be seen that there was close collaboration between Drs Rankin and Bratt in these activities)

There is some other information available on Dr Rankin’s past work and present engagements in New Zealand and Australia, which can be viewed by clicking these links to PDFs with scan copies of other printed out documents (from websites and so forth):

LinkedIn profile of Dr Rankin, now ‘Clinical Director’ at ‘Medi Bank’ in Australia:
https://au.linkedin.com/in/david-rankin-96a40816

A PDF with a scan copy of his same profile, as on 13 April 2017:
David Rankin, Dr, once MSD and ACC, N.Z., LinkedIn Profile, scan copy, as on 13.04.17
Dr David Rankin, Medibank, once MSD, ACC, NZ, LinkedIn profile, scan, hi-lit, 13.04.17

Link to PDF with ACC’s ‘Business Plan’ for 2005-2006, with references to Dr Rankin as Manager of the ACC provider arm ‘Healthwise’, see pages 36, 37 and 39:
https://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi3-bXU583TAhWJHZQKHYW_BDwQFggzMAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.acc.co.nz%2FPRD_EXT_CSMP%2Fidcplg%3FIdcService%3DGET_FILE%26dID%3D5662%26dDocName%3DWCM2_020652%26allowInterrupt%3D1&usg=AFQjCNEWlrrJMh-nRbB8Bkof1K1SfKW1Tg

https://www.google.co.nz/?gws_rd=ssl#q=dr+david+rankin+msd+nz&start=20

Dr Rankin’s profile on the old ‘HISAC’ website (as on 26/07/2006):
http://www.hisac.govt.nz/moh.nsf/36329723e7a128c1cc2571bd000a7d16/2c0a957deaf288b6cc257378000792c1?OpenDocument
“David is a senior advisor with the Ministry of Social Development. He provides the Ministry with advice on working with health professionals and returning people to gainful employment.

David was formerly the General Manager – ACC Healthwise at the Accident Compensation Corporation, which he joined in 1998. David was CEO of Auckland Adventist Hospital from 1992 to 1997. Previous to that he was Director of Medical Services for Warburton Health Care Centre and Hospital in Victoria, Australia where he practised as a rural GP from 1985 to 1989. Dr Rankin holds a Masters in Health Administration and a Masters in Public Health. He gained his medical degree from the University of Otago in 1982.”

Dr Rankin’s profile as ‘speaker’ on the ‘Ko Awatea’ website (2017):
http://koawatea.co.nz/apac-forum/speakers-2017/david-rankin/

Dr Rankin’s profile on the RACMA website (2017):
http://www.racmacme.com.au/winter/speakers/dr-david-rankin/

Dr Rankin’s profile from the RACMA website, shown in a PDF with a scan copy of the same, 13 April 2017:
Dr David Rankin, Medibank, once MSD, ACC in N.Z., profile, RACMA, scan, 13.04.17

Here are some links to online web publications, in which references are made to Dr David Rankin, when he worked for MSD and WINZ:

Beneficiaries get priority health care, Stuff.co, 20 June 2007:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/55382/Beneficiaries-get-priority-health-care

Launch of the Health Practitioner’s Handbook, ‘beehive.govt.nz’ website, Darren Hughes, 10 July 2008:
https://www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/launch-health-practitioner039s-handbook
(‘Speech notes for Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment Darren Hughes – launch of the Health Practitioners Handbook, Horowhenua Health Centre, Levin’)

 

FURTHER SOURCES REVEALING THE TRUE AGENDA OF DR BRATT AND MSD

Here are links to another important post published on this blog, which shows how ‘Designated Doctors’ work and are used by MSD, when commissioned to examine, assess or re-assess sick and disabled on benefits for benefit entitlement and work capacity:

DESIGNATED DOCTORS – USED BY WORK AND INCOME, some also used by ACC: The truth about supposedly “independent” Designated Doctors:

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

Here are links to two other relevant posts, which contain further interesting background information on all this:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-controversial-bio-psycho-social-model/
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-health-and-disability-panel-and-its-hand-picked-members/

 
 

E). MSD AND DR BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING ‘EVIDENCE’

Since the requester had made his information request for the salaries of Dr Bratt, Anne Hawker and Dr Rankin on 11 June 2013, much more other information has become available to him and some associates, and it can now be said with certainty, that MSD and particularly Dr David Bratt, have been responsible for some significant misinformation of both health professionals and the public. So called ‘evidence’ can be challenged and disputed, given the fact that there is insufficient conclusive evidence to support the many claims about the ‘health benefits of work’, about ‘return to work’ statistics and so forth. Some information has been misinterpreted and then misrepresented, some is outright false, and some simply does not even seem to exist, as MSD never provided its reports or other sources. Some other ‘evidence’ admittedly exists, but has been quoted out of context, and has been given undue weight, so that it does not support the bold and misleading claims made by Dr Bratt.

Just one example of this to have happened can be found by looking at the following publication on this blog, and also at info available on other relevant and quoted websites:

SENIOR SCIENTIST AND LEGAL EXPERTS DISCREDIT ‘EVIDENCE’ USED BY MSD AND DR BRATT WHEN CLAIMING THE ‘HEALTH BENEFITS OF WORK’
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/senior-scientist-and-legal-experts-discredit-evidence-used-by-msd-and-dr-bratt-when-claiming-the-health-benefits-of-work/

Here is the proof of a senior scientist challenging the ‘evidence’ used by Dr Bratt and MSD:
“Is the statement that if a person is off work for 70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35% justified?” NZMJ, 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

Here is a must read post that reveals the extent of misinformation by MSD and Dr Bratt, based on OIA responses received, and the analysis of various reports and statistics presented:
THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (MSD) AND DR DAVID BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING “EVIDENCE”, CLAIMING “WORKLESSNESS” CAUSES POOR HEALTH
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/msd-and-dr-david-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-claiming-worklessness-causes-poor-health/
(Read chapters ‘C)’, ‘D)’ and ‘E)’ re the lack of evidence and flawed evidence used by MSD, and especially ‘F)’ about the Ombudsman’s actions – or rather missing action – in regards to Dr Bratt and his presentations, and his reported deletion of all emails to and from another external ‘Advisor’.)

The same post, downloadable in PDF form, which shows an updated version from 19 Sept. 2016:

Click to access msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-publ-post-19-09-16.pdf

Other also relevant information on the misuse of scientific information can be found here:
In the expectation of recovery, Faulkner, Centre for Welfare Reform, Scrib:

(criticism of wrong use of the biopsychosocial model, Aylward et al)

 
 

F). PUBLIC AND STATE SERVICE SALARY INFORMATION SOURCES – ALLOWING SOME LIMITED COMPARISONS

With the information made available by MSD, we can now look at some other salary information that has been made available, or that is available via a number of websites. But regrettably, in New Zealand, the availability of salary information for the public and state service is rather limited, often only showing what salaries and other income Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are paid. There is no reliable information available on salaries for senior positions below CEO level.

Nevertheless, we can find some useful information to compare salaries, for instance to what ordinary ‘Case Managers’ working for MSD/Work and Income are paid, to what Members of Parliament (MPs) are paid, to what ‘Senior Legal Advisors’ and other professionals may be paid in the public service.

Here are some media reports on CEO salaries in the public sector:

Minister responds to claim of MSD salary hikes
“Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says spending on big salaries at the Ministry of Social Development may well be justified.”

Radio New Zealand, RNZ, 21 June 2015:
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/276790/minister-responds-to-claim-of-msd-salary-hikes

Extract:
“Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni said there were 53 ministry staff on annual salaries above $200,000 – more than twice the number five years ago. Ms Sepuloni said spending on leadership workshops had also climbed to almost $800,000 this year, compared with just over $137,000 last year.”

Revealed: The highest paid public servants,
Tracey Watkins, Fairfax, stuff.co, 26 Nov. 2015:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/74438020/Revealed-The-highest-paid-public-servants

 

Official reports:

MSD’s report to the Social Services Committee, with answers to pre-hearing questions, as part of their departmental annual review, 9 Dec. 2015 (downloadable PDF):

Social Services Committee, Annual Review of the Ministry of Social Development 2014/2015,
Wednesday 9 December 2015, Standard pre-hearing Questions 1-268
:
https://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=21&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiV_J-5177TAhUHxbwKHfapAEQ4FBAWCCAwAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.parliament.nz%2Fresource%2Fen-nz%2F51SCSS_EVI_00DBSCH_ANR_66294_1_A462815%2F9d15b5cae602527c04454dd27fa515ecb1e2f930&usg=AFQjCNGLV5QJPwqlSWqGUHSgsdtqtBXqOg

(See page 64 with a list of salary bands and how many persons received salaries within the bands).

The State Services Commission only really releases information on what Chief Executives of state service entities earn, and in a report only give a vague insight into salary bands, and how many persons earn corresponding salaries:
http://www.ssc.govt.nz/ssw-pay#pay

Click to access statesector-workforce-key-facts-june15.pdf


http://www.ssc.govt.nz/hrc-survey-2016
http://www.ssc.govt.nz/public-service-workforce-data/hrc-remuneration

Of some interest may be salaries over $ 100,000:
http://www.ssc.govt.nz/public-service-workforce-data/hrc-remuneration#over100k

OIA release by the ‘Crown Law Office’, dated 23 March 2017, published via FYI website, listing salary ranges for ‘Chief Legal Counsel’ positions in government departments:

Click to access 3954167%20Letter%20to%20Glenn%20McAllister%20OIA%2020170323.PDF.pdf

See table 2 for the Ministry of Social Development:
“19. Ministry of Social Development: $161,289 to $241,934”

Limited, available salary band information, available via the website PayScale, for MSD listed positions:
http://www.payscale.com/research/NZ/Employer=Ministry_of_Social_Development/Salary/by_Job

Policy Analysts get something like 58,219 to 90,753 NZDs, according to that.

Some more info, with slightly different numbers:
http://www.payscale.com/research/NZ/Employer=Ministry_of_Social_Development/Salary

Case Managers earn roughly between 42,000 and 62,000, to 69,000 maximum

When advertising jobs online, MSD appears to not always publish the salary that can be expected, especially for jobs of the higher paid order, see their website:
https://jobs.msd.govt.nz/MSD/

The website ‘jobs.govt.nz’ offers little more:
https://jobs.govt.nz/jobs/jncustomsearch.searchResults
https://jobs.govt.nz/

For another comparison, the ‘Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances Determination 2016’ does in Schedule 1 list the salaries for Members of Parliament, and ordinary MPs get about $160,024 per annum:
http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2016/0252/latest/whole.html
(see Schedule 1)

 
 

G). CONCLUSION

It can be said with some certainty, that the Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt, and also Principal Disability Advisor Anne Hawker, same as the former Senior (Health) Advisor Dr David Rankin, have received and are receiving comparatively high salaries, that puts them into the top categories of state servants’ incomes.

The still employed Dr Bratt and Anne Hawker must be expected to be earning well above what most Advisors in various government departments or agencies earn, and above what our ordinary MPs earn per year, and they belong to the top earners within MSD.

When considering what actual professional qualifications experience they have, and what they provide in work and services, the question must be put, are their salaries appropriate, and this must surely be asked when looking at Dr Bratt and his in our view questionable performance and conduct as the most senior internal health advisor at MSD.

Making unfounded claims about inconclusive findings on the ‘health benefits of work’, likening the dependence on benefit support to “drug addiction”, offering quotes without properly referencing them to any scientific reports that may back them up, and making comments to media, that are also not backed up by solid science, that disqualifies a person like Dr Bratt from working in the kind of role he holds. Yet he gets rewarded with a salary package that beats those of many other professionals who face much more public and expert scrutiny, given the different roles they may have, working for agencies or employers that are not as “protective” as MSD appear to be of Dr David Bratt.

There would not be many other developed countries, where such practices would be tolerated, but in New Zealand it appears to be more important what connections you have, who pays, supports and protects you, and what you are supposed to do for certain vested interest holding parties, than what your qualification, ethical standards and integrity should demand of you as a professional person.

What is also important to note is the fact that the Office of Ombudsmen appears to be either so under-resourced, or overburdened with their work-load, or perhaps even so poorly ‘motivated’ to resolve such complaints as the one described above. It is in our view close to scandalous, that a complainant has to wait nearly 4 years after an OIA request was made, for the sought information to be finally made available. That was of course the case only after the Ombudsman did eventually step in and asked MSD to provide at least some salary bands to give the requester and the wider public an idea of how highly paid these particular ‘Advisors’ are for the at times questionable work they are doing.

With such a state of affairs, such poor transparency, and lack of accountability, we have a situation in New Zealand that leaves very much to be desired, when it comes to holding senior Advisors and their employers in the state or public service accountable for their conduct and disregard for standards.

 
 

M. C.

 

Auckland, New Zealand – 30 April 2017

 
 

PLEASE FIND HERE A DOWN-LOADABLE PDF WITH THE COMPLETE TEXT OF THIS POST, WHICH SOME MAY FIND EASIER TO READ:
MSD Releases OIA Info On Health Advisor’s Salaries, Nearly 4 Years Late, Post, 30.04.17

 
 

ADDENDUM – 01 MAY 2017, MORE REASON TO BE CONCERNED:

 

‘NZ DOCTOR’ ARTICLE:

‘Registrar’s visit to south Auckland Work and Income an eye-opener’, by Fiona Thomas, from 1 March 2017:

Extract from article text:

“Writing a medical certificate is akin to writing a prescription for a drug with significant side effects, East Tamaki Healthcare GP trainer Tane Taylor told registrars on a visit to Work and Income Manurewa last month.

It was the fifth time GPEP1 registrars working at ETHC clinics had paid a visit to the centre, in a partnership set up to help them understand their role in the Work and Income process.”

“Present for the session was Ministry of Social Development principal health advisor David Bratt, along with health and disability coordinators and staff from the Manurewa centre.

Dr Bratt and Dr Taylor both emphasized to the registrars the importance of striking a balance between writing certificates and encouraging patients to return to work.”

“Dr Taylor says he would like to see a change in the culture of how medical certificates are treated, with greater encouragement to help people with their medical difficulties and encourage them back to work. It is not the role of GPs to assess whether there are enough jobs for people to go to, he says.”

Health and disability coordinator for the Ministry of Social Development Sandi Field told the registrars whether clients have a medical certificate or not does not affect the amount of allowance they receive. What differs is Work and Income’s expectations of them…”

“Dr Bratt says there has been interest in the workshop from other regions and he would like to see it offered elsewhere.”

Here is a link to ‘NZ Doctor’ magazine and to that article, if it should not load, try to search for the article by putting the title into your search engines search box:
https://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2017/march-2017/1-march-2017/registrars%E2%80%99-visit-to-south-auckland-work-and-income-an-eye-opener.aspx

Here are links to two PDF files with two scan copies of the article, which we offer for independent private research and study purposes:
NZ Doctor, Registrar’s visit to south Auckland WINZ an eye-opener, F. Thomas, article, 01.03.17
NZ Doctor, Registrar’s visit to south Auckland WINZ an eye-opener, article, high-lit, 01.03.17

 

Author’s comments:

Here we go yet again, the attempts by MSD and Dr Bratt to influence medical and health practitioners, even during their training to become general practitioners (GPs), continues as per the agenda they follow. It may all appear to be rather subtle and even convincing to the participants, what is being communicated, but this kind of interference into the independent work of doctors is unacceptable and must be stopped!

Firstly there is again clear misinformation happening, as it clearly is not true that a medical certificate by a health practitioner has no effect on any allowances paid by Work and Income (WINZ). There is for instance a marked difference between the rates for the Supported Living Payment (SLP) benefit and the Jobseeker Support benefit (over $50 difference), just check their own website for the details:
https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/benefit-rates/benefit-rates-april-2017.html
https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/a-z-benefits/disability-allowance.html

A medical certificate will give details on work capacity and likely availability to work or training, and this will determine what kind of benefit will be paid. Also will it depend on such details in a certificate, what kind of medication or treatment a client of WINZ may need, which again influences or determines whether a person may be entitled to a Disability Allowance or other necessary support.

Hence the Health and Disability Coordinator quoted in that article is simply telling lies, and is intentionally misleading the registrars who were told the above, as such a Coordinator has been trained by MSD and is well informed about what entitlements there are.

The risks are being ignored – or taken too lightly, that persons with health conditions and disability, particularly those with complex health conditions, and hard to detect or understand mental health conditions, can suffer serious harm when being considered “fit for work”, while they are not.

Dr Tane Taylor was himself one of the appointees to a so-called ‘Health and Disability Panel’ that was set up by MSD and/or former Social Security Minister Paula Bennett in about 2011, for the purpose of consulting on health and disability matters as part of a lengthy process of changing the benefit system, and even substantially changing the Social Security Act 1964, which all came into effect in July 2013. He appears to have fully signed up to collaborate with MSD in these areas.

See this post on this blog, found via the following link, which mentioned already years ago, the involvement of Dr Tane Taylor with that Panel and with MSD:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-health-and-disability-panel-and-its-hand-picked-members/

Since then MSD and WINZ even made it harder for appellants when facing a so-called ‘Medical Appeal Board’ (MAB) hearing, as they changed that process of the hearing as well:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-medical-appeal-board-how-msd-and-winz-have-secretely-changed-the-process-disadvantaging-beneficiaries/

Click to access mab-process-how-msd-discretely-changed-it-further-disadvantaging-clients-nzsjb-updated-20-09-16.pdf

Community Law New Zealand were informed of this years ago, but as they are themselves government funded, through the Ministry of Justice, they are also told to keep quiet.

This forum is the only one we are aware of that dares raise all these matters, which the mainstream media simply ignores, as their staff and editors rather “trust” the government officials.

 

M. C.

 

Auckland, New Zealand – 01 May 2015

 
 

ADDENDUM – 03 MAY 2017, FURTHER REPORT PROVING THAT THE ‘BIO PSYCHO SOCIAL MODEL’ (BPS) IS FLAWED:

 

‘BLAMING THE VICTIM’ REPORT, BY SHAKESPEARE ET AL:

A reader and follower of our blog has pointed out another report that is available online on the internet, and that can on some websites be down-loaded as a PDF file. It is another report that exposes the Aylward and Waddell version of the so-called ‘bio-psychosocial model’ (BPS) as being flawed and of no use to apply in the way they have proposed.

We do not wish to go too much into detail, you will need to read the report to understand the details, so here we do at least offer it:

‘Blaming the victim, all over again: Waddell and Aylward’s biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability’
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0261018316649120

Authors:
Tom Shakespeare, Nicholas Watson, Ola Abu Alghaib

By: SAGE Publishing – 2016

A PDF with the report is downloadable here:
https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/58235/1/1351_Shakespeare.pdf

 

ABSTRACT

“The biopsychosocial (BPS) model of mental distress, originally conceived by the American psychiatrist George Engel in the 1970s and commonly used in psychiatry and psychology, has been adapted by Gordon Waddell and Mansell Aylward to form the theoretical basis for current UK Government thinking on disability. Most importantly, the Waddell and Aylward version of the BPS has played a key role as the Government has sought to reform spending on out-of-work disability benefits. This paper presents a critique of Waddell and Aylward’s model, examining its origins, its claims and the evidence it employs. We will argue that its potential for genuine inter-disciplinary cooperation and the holistic and humanistic benefits for disabled people as envisaged by Engel are not now, if they ever have been, fully realized. Any potential benefit it may have offered has been eclipsed by its role in Coalition/Conservative government social welfare policies that have blamed the victim and justified restriction of entitlements.”

Other links:
https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/58235/

http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/120085/

http://forums.phoenixrising.me/index.php?threads/dns-%E2%80%98biopsychosocial%E2%80%99-basis-for-benefit-cuts-is-%E2%80%98cavalier-unevidenced-and-misleading%E2%80%99.45109/

 

Comment:

This report may even deserve a separate post for itself, so we will consider whether we will have the time to prepare and publish one on it.

 

2 Comments

SENIOR SCIENTIST AND LEGAL EXPERTS DISCREDIT ‘EVIDENCE’ USED BY MSD AND DR BRATT WHEN CLAIMING THE ‘HEALTH BENEFITS OF WORK’


SENIOR SCIENTIST AND LEGAL EXPERTS DISCREDIT ‘EVIDENCE’ USED BY MSD AND DR BRATT WHEN CLAIMING THE ‘HEALTH BENEFITS OF WORK’

 
 

Published 16 August 2016

 

A). Introduction

We have in previous posts on this humble blog-site revealed how frequently made assertions by the New Zealand government’s Ministry of Social Development (MSD), particularly by their Principal Health Advisor (PHA) Dr David Bratt, about the so-called “health benefits of work”, are not supported by proper and sufficient scientific evidence.

It appears that many of the bold claims are based on misleading information and advice that had been taken from a ‘Position Statement’ by the ‘Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’ (AFOEM), originally titled ‘Helping People Return to Work’, which was first formally presented in March or May 2010. The since then updated ‘Position Statement’ of the AFOEM is now known under the title ‘Realising the Health Benefits of Work’. Wrong conclusions were for instance drawn from a graph based on statistical data with limited value, on page 14 of the original ‘Statement’ (‘Helping People Return to Work’). An amended ‘Statement’ as part of a stakeholder ‘Consensus Statement’, signed by former AFOEM President Robin Chase on 01 March 2011, does not show the same graph, but mentions frequently quoted statistical information under the heading ‘2.0 HEALTH AND WELLBEING IMPACTS OF BEING OUT OF WORK’ (page 12). That information appears to be based on the same data that was used for the mentioned graph in the earlier ‘Statement’. The mentioned figures refer to the likelihood of a person’s return to work after certain periods of absence from work (due to accidents suffered). The graph was part of a presentation by senior AFOEM members Dr Robin Chase (former President) and Dr Mary Wyatt (then Chair of the ‘Policy and Advocacy Committee’). It resembles a graph ‘5.3’ on page 36 of another report titled ‘Factors Affecting Return to Work after Injury’: A study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority’ by David Johnson and Tim Fry, from Dec. 2002.

Dr Mary Wyatt is also linked to these online website and publication forums:
http://www.rtwmatters.org/opinion/contributor.php?id=2
http://www.rtwknowledge.org/

A link to the PDF with the report available on the Web, titled ‘Factors Affecting Return to Work after Injury’: A study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority’ is found here:

Click to access wp2002n28.pdf

Another report that has also partly been misinterpreted, but which is not of direct relevance here is the following, more recent one:
‘2008/09 Australia + New Zealand Return to Work Monitor’, by Campbell Research:

Click to access Australia%20and%20New%20Zealand%20Return%20to%20Work%20Monitor%202008-2009.pdf

The above mentioned ‘Position Statement’ on the “Health Benefits of Work” was first launched at the AFOEM in March 2010 by Professor Sir Mansel Aylward from the then called ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ at Cardiff University in Wales. He had been invited to the AFOEM – as part of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) – by the then ‘Chair of ‘Faculty Policy and Advocacy’, Dr David Beaumont (formerly also employed by ‘ATOS’ in the UK). Prof. Aylward was asked to present his “evidence” that he and colleagues had gathered and reported on in the UK. Dr Aylward and his colleague Dr Waddell both worked at the mentioned research department at Cardiff University, which had for years initially also been funded by UNUM Provident insurance company. The name ‘UNUM’ was later dropped from the Centre’s name after controversy arose due to that insurer’s US branches’ activities ending in court cases revealing improper activities by assessors they used. Repeated mention is made in the AFOEM ‘Position Statement’ of Prof. Aylward, Dr Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton as senior “research” professionals, who have been pushing for a change in the approach to assessments and treatments of people with health conditions, injury and resulting disability. Prof. Aylward became Director of the Cardiff research department in 2005, after having been ‘Chief Medical Adviser’ for the ‘Department of Work and Pensions’ in the UK for a number of years.

Online copies of the ‘Position Statement’ by the AFOEM:
https://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/pdfs/helping-people-return-to-work-using-evidence-for-better-outcomes-28-05-2010.pdf?sfvrsn=2 (see page 14)
https://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian-and-new-zealand-consensus-statement-on-the-health-benefits-of-work.pdf?sfvrsn=2 (see page 12)
https://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/afoem-pos-aus-nz-con-health-benefits-work-pack.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Some links to info on Prof. Aylward, Dr Waddell and Dr Beaumont – found on the ‘web’ (enjoying some controversy):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansel_Aylward
http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/experts/professor-sir-mansel-aylward-cb-dsc-ffpm-ffom-ffph-frcp/
http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/09/professor-mansel-aylward-my-what-a-very-tangled/
https://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/unum-atos-the-dwp-and-the-wca-who-gets-the-blame-for-the-biopsychosocial-saga/
http://dpac.uk.net/2014/09/gordon-waddells-biopsychosocial-attack-on-disabled-people/
http://fitforwork.co.nz/dr-david-beaumont-inducted-as-afoem-presidenthttps://nz.linkedin.com/in/david-beaumont-9437802a
https://issuu.com/maxhead/docs/atos_conference_2004
http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/absenceminded-2005-07.aspx
(See at the bottom: Dr David Beaumont is a consultant occupational physician with Atos Origin…”)

 

B). Most “evidence” appears to be at best inconclusive

At best, much, if not most of the so far presented “evidence” on supposed “health benefits” of staying at work, or returning to work early, while still injured and/or sick, has been inconclusive. Indeed some would argue the whole presumptions that work has significant “health benefits” or is even “therapeutic” is hardly proved; given that many forms of work carry various types of health risks (e.g. stress, occupational overuse syndrome, burnout and potential injury). Even such authors of reports promoting work for persons who are sick and disabled, like Drs Aylward and Waddell, and who claim that for many with “common mental health conditions” or “musculoskeletal conditions” this may even be “therapeutic”, they have often enough admitted that “more research is needed”.

We have shown in earlier posts, how statistical data had been hand-picked, was used rather selectively and presented out of context. We revealed how the information was often only the result of rather limited, randomly conducted interviews, surveys and other poor “research”. Certainly a fair amount of such “research”, for instance from the former ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, now known as the ‘Centre for Psychosocial Research, Occupational and Physician Health’ (PROPH), cannot have been conducted in a sufficiently comprehensive and systematic manner. At least some of it appears to have been done without strictly following commonly accepted scientific approaches (e.g. by interviewing comparatively small numbers of selected participants). Also were many reports simply based on the interpretation of earlier statistical reports, after having merely done “desk research”. The validity and reliability of such reports has been questioned, even though some is claimed to have been peer reviewed. Apparent correlation of variables did not justify making presumptions on the causality of one from the other. Correlation and association does not necessarily conclude causation. Yet this appears to have been done on a number of occasions.

Wikipedia explains the challenges researches often face when evaluating results:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation
“”Correlation does not imply causation” is a phrase used in statistics to emphasize that a correlation between two variables does not imply that one causes the other.”

Some bold claims have been made that lack any substance at all, as far as we can assess. And one must suspect that there have been certain efforts made, to provide reports and comments on the “health benefits of work” and the harmfulness of “worklessness”, which may simply serve certain vested interest holding parties. These would be parties like government agencies, insurance companies, employers and their organisations, which may all somehow benefit from the creation of new “paradigm shifts” supporting more short-sighted “cost efficient” approaches in dealing with persons suffering health issues, injuries and work absenteeism.

 

C). Earlier posts on ‘nzsocialjusticeblog2013’ revealing flaws in “evidence” reports and in “presentations” by Dr David Bratt, MSD

One earlier post that revealed flaws in ‘evidence’ and more is found under this link:
‘THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (MSD) AND DR DAVID BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING “EVIDENCE”, CLAIMING “WORKLESSNESS” CAUSES POOR HEALTH’
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/msd-and-dr-david-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-claiming-worklessness-causes-poor-health/

msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-publ-post-19-09-16

Many presentations were given by Dr David Bratt, (PHA for Work and Income and the MSD) to numerous meetings and conferences attended by health professionals, educators and also other groups of people. One of them was called ‘Ready, Steady, Crook – Are we killing our patients with kindness?’ It is still found via the internet by clicking this link below:

Click to access C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

In that and some other presentations, clearly intended to influence medical and other health practitioners, to refrain from issuing medical certificates for people to take time off work, highly questionable data has been presented. In ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’ we find this for instance on slides 22 and 23, where not specifically named “Australian and NZ studies” are mentioned, which are supposed to show the percentage based likelihood of persons absent from work for certain periods in being able to return to employment. On the following pages (slides 24 and 25) in that presentation the ‘Adverse Effects’ and ‘Psycho-social Impacts’ are listed, for persons being absent from work for longer periods.

Dr Bratt does have a habit of not mentioning much in the way of his sources and where exactly his information originates from, and he also presents such “data” out of context, apparently trying to send home a kind of targeted “message”.

When looking at many of his presentations, one must wonder, whether he does at least at times not confuse cause with effect, as it is completely normal and understandable that seriously sick or injured people need to take time off work, and the more serious their conditions are, the more likely it is that they will be unable to work for longer periods, due to the duration of recovery and also the severity of resulting disabilities.

When reading and looking at the presentations though, one gets the impression that Dr Bratt tries to suggest, that people get sick from not working, and that being “workless” is the cause of their health issues. While there may well be some truth in it, that being out of work for longer will potentially also have some negative effects on a person’s health, this does not necessarily mean that being out of employment results in sickness and disability. People can stay fit and healthy without being in paid employment, which will be the kind of “work” Dr Bratt and MSD are talking about. Provided people stay active physically and mentally, within their reasonable abilities, we would argue, they will stay healthy whether they are in paid work or not. They may also be happy to rather do some voluntary work, or engage in various activities at home, which are not paid, and thus maintain mental and physical health.

The efforts by Dr Bratt and his employer MSD do rather seem to be intent to move the goal post, or to blur the line, regarding what has traditionally been accepted as being disabling health conditions and/or injuries, and what they may wish to instead have apply in the future. Quite understandably do MSD (with their main department Work and Income), and the government, have a strong interest in reducing the number of persons who may claim a benefit, in this case for grounds of poor health and disability. It would reduce their costs and result in “savings”, at least in the short to perhaps medium term. They do clearly have a vested interest that is at play here.

 

Some other presentations by Dr Bratt, repeating similar data and claims:

‘If a Benefit was a Drug would You Prescribe it?’, Rotorua, June 2010:

Click to access BO%2012%20830am%20David%20Bratt%20Benefit%20were%20a%20Drug%20V2.pdf


(see slides 15 to 22, particularly slide 18, and slide 31, which are of relevance in relation to this post)

‘Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too!’, GP Presentation, 2012:

Click to access Fri_DaVinci_1400_Bratt_Medical%20Certificates%20are%20Clinical%20Instruments%20too%20-%20June%202012.pdf


(see slides 25, 26 and 33 as being of particular interest in relation to this post)

‘Benefit Sunshine’ “Is being on a Benefit Bad for your Health”, Welfare Working Group Forum, Wellington, June 2010:

Click to access David-Bratt-Benefit-Sunshine.pdf


(see slides 6 to 9 as being of particular relevance in relation to this post)

‘Happy Docs – true generalism with Welfare Reform’, RNZCGP Presentation, July 2013:

Click to access 1100%20-%20cs3-a%20-%20happy%20docs%20true%20generalism%20with%20welfare%20reform%20-%20david%20bratt.pdf


(see slides 21 to 23 as being of particular relevance in relation to this post, slide 22 also contains questionable data gathered through an unscientific, random survey of GPs)

 

Comment by the Author

The above does already imply that a kind of “agenda” appears to have been followed by certain members of the AFOEM, and in the consequence also by government departments in Australia and New Zealand, such as MSD, with the intention to reduce work absenteeism, prolonged unemployment resulting in either insurance claims or benefit receipt by persons with sickness, injury and disability. The aim was first and foremost to reduce costs and liabilities. Looking at the “presentations” used by Dr Bratt gives an informed and educated reader the immediate impression, that information is presented with the intention to influence medical practitioners such as general practitioners, and to get them on side in the efforts by the government agencies and also other vested interest organisations and departments to achieve the mentioned outcomes. In the following we can now show, how their so-called “evidence” has been challenged and proved wrong by a senior scientist and also by legal experts.

 

D). Gordon Purdie, BSc and Biostatistician, from the University of Otago – Wellington presented the following critical ‘Opinion’ publication in the ‘New Zealand Medical Journal’ (NZMJ), published on the New Zealand Medical Association website

 

“Is the statement that if a person is off work for 70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35% justified?”

https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2015/vol-128-no-1425-20-november-2015/6729

“The 2010 Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) position statement, Realising the Health Benefits of Work1 contains the following statements:
Work absence tends to perpetuate itself: that is, the longer someone is off work, the less likely they become ever to return.
If the person is off work for:

• 20 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 70%;
• 45 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 50%; and
• 70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35%.

The statements are referenced to a study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority by Johnson and Fry published in 2002.2 However, the reference does not contain the statements or results that could support them.

The statements are being repeated by New Zealand3 and Australian4,5 government agencies, in the explanatory memorandum for a bill to amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act in Australia,6 non-government organisations7 and the commercial sector, including insurance.8 They were presented to the New Zealand Government’s Welfare Working Group Forum in the context of influencing government policy.3 The statements are frequently referenced to Johnson and Fry.2 They have appeared in international literature,9 also referenced to Johnson and Fry.2 “.

“Misinterpretation of survival curves”

“The conclusions appear to be based on the misinterpretation of survival curves. …”

(Read the full commentary on the website or in the attached PDF file!).

“The statements use”

“The statements are being used to support statements like: “Urgent action is required if a person is not back at work within a matter of weeks. If a person is not back at work within three weeks urgent attention is needed”11 even though the data is for time after an initial 10 days off work.”

“The incorrect statements about the chance of ever getting back to work are being presented to general practitioners (GPs) continuing medical education conferences in the context certifying people as unfit for work, together with statements like the ‘benefit’ is “an addictive debilitating drug with significant adverse effects to both the patient and their family (whānau)”.13 They are being presented to GPs in the context of assisting patients to safely stay at work or return to work early.4 These appear to be encouraging GPs to assess injured and unwell patients as having capacity for work and not issuing medical certificates for work incapacity. This could result in the cessation of welfare benefits or injury compensation. When these patients lack the capacity to work, they could experience increased financial hardship. For example, people might move from injury compensation to an unemployment benefit, and those without benefit entitlements to no income.”

And take note of this sentence (as quoted):
“The statements have also been presented with the intent to influence public policy.3,6,14.

Here is a link to the down-loadable PDF file with this report:

Click to access Purdie-1874FINAL1425.pdf

 

Please find hear some information on the author, Gordon Purdie, Department of Public Health, University of Otago – Wellington, on the University’s website:
http://www.otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/publichealth/staff/otago024934.html

“Research Interests and Activities”

“Gordon is part of a team in the Department of Public Health which provides statistical consulting to health researchers. Within the Health Inequalities Research programme, he is involved in the Differential Colon Cancer Survival by Ethnicity in New Zealand project and also works with Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare on several research projects, including Unequal Treatment: The Role of Health Services.

Gordon’s concerns include discrimination and inequalities, which are reflected in his health research.”

 

E). Opinion by respected West Australian legal experts on the controversial “evidence” that Dr Bratt and MSD, and even the RACP’s AFOEM have so often presented

Connor Legal – Barristers and Solicitors:

‘The Health Benefits of Work (Part 1)’
http://connorlegal.com.au/2014/09/health-benefits-work-part-1/

Extract from their website:

“According to WorkCover’s latest public relations handouts to medical practitioners, “work generally is shown to be good for health and wellbeing”, and “Research shows that early return to work is important to recovery”.

Let’s just pass over the amusing irony inherent in the claim that the very activity being performed by a patient at the time of injury, i.e. “work”, was in fact beneficial for that patient. Instead, let’s look at the evidence that WorkCover assures GP’s “overwhelmingly” supports these surprising statements. I’ll deal with the early return to work claim first since it is the most ludicrous.”

And here is another bit:

“So, the claim being made is that time off work causes time off work, because while they are away from work, workers are denied the “health benefits of work”. Denial of these benefits prejudices recovery, so workers take longer to get better. That this is so, is indicated by the table which shows a negative association between time off work and the chance of returning to work: greater absence – lower probability of return to work.

However, the claim is fallacious as (for a start) “correlation or association is not causation”. There are numerous examples available to illustrate this fallacy. An amusing one is as follows:….”

Read their further comments in that article on their blog on their website!

And have a read of this latest article, is it not “bizarre”, how the truth has to come out only so late, and this is just in relation to this one bit of “evidence” Bratt et al have thrown at us:

‘The Health Benefits of Work (Part 4)’
http://connorlegal.com.au/2016/06/the-health-benefits-of-work-part-4/

Extract from the website:

“Dr Purdie’s criticism was accepted by the the Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, RACP (NZMJ 19 February 2016, Vol 129 No 1430):

Dr Purdie makes a number of points about information in the Health Benefits of Work position statement and subsequent publications. We respond to his points in turn. Dr Purdie raised concerns that we have misinterpreted or misrepresented the survival curves. We concur, in retrospect, that we have not interpreted the survival curve correctly. We thank Dr Purdie for drawing this to our attention. The curve does indicate that the longer someone is off work the lower the chance of the individual returning to work, however the percentages quoted are not accurate. The concordance of the evidence supports the principle, if not the precise detail. We have recently published an update of the evidence and we plan to update the position statement.”

Read their further comments in that article (see link above)!

And here are other articles from this series of qualified and intelligent commentary:
http://connorlegal.com.au/2014/10/health-benefits-work-part-2/
http://connorlegal.com.au/2014/10/health-benefits-work-part-3/

We most strongly recommend that you read the whole lot, it proves that we have been served misleading nonsense with the “science” they use to justify assessing many seriously sick and disabled as “fit for work”, even when they have no realistic chance of getting a job.

Dr Bratt, Principal Health Advisor at MSD and for WINZ and his apparent academic master lecturer Mansel Aylward have been exposed, yet again.

 

F). Other report/s that question the usefulness and credibility of the ‘bio-psycho-social model’ promoted by “experts” like Prof. Dr Mansel Aylward and like minded scientists

 

‘In the expectation of recovery’, Faulkner, Centre for Welfare Reform, on ‘Scrib’:
“In the Expectation of Recovery”
‘MISLEADING MEDICAL RESEARCH AND WELFARE REFORM’
by George Faulkner, Published by The Centre for Welfare Reform, April 2016
https://www.scribd.com/doc/308613502/In-the-Expectation-of-Recovery
(With criticism of the biopsychosocial model, used and defended by Aylward et al)

 
 

G). Concluding Comments

So we have over many years been misinformed, by “experts” presenting us wrongly interpreted statistical data, questionable results from series of interviews and surveys offering only limited value, all designed and aimed at telling us that sick, injured and incapacitated persons need to be kept in paid employment by all means, as that is for most the best “therapy” to recover. Serious sickness and injuries are meant to only be temporary, and people who consider themselves too sick or injured to return to work, may simply just suffer from a victim attitude or “fool themselves” into believing they are not able to work.

Cause and effect appear to have been confused and false conclusions have been drawn from reports that were often just the result of desk research by persons who seem to have been overly keen to prove their views and interpretations of gathered information and viewed earlier reports.

We have taken note how some of the quoted “experts”, such as Dr David Beaumont, same as Prof. Aylward and others, have over recent years made efforts to rewrite certain information on their own or affiliated websites, and have now also made it more difficult to find older information that once used to be freely available on the internet. For instance Dr Beaumont’s profile on the ‘Fit For Work’ website reveals nothing about his former work for ‘Atos Origin’. Other information has suddenly vanished or changed. The former ‘UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, of which Dr Aylward has been Director, was many years ago suddenly renamed, so the name ‘Unum’ vanished, and little info is found now, on their past involvement in establishing and funding the research department at Cardiff University.

These are just some things we note, and we must presume more information is “refreshed”, “reviewed” and “represented” or deleted while we read this here. It is time to be alert at all times, to challenge the persons who have been involved in all this, and to expose more of the truth, such as the respected professionals have done, whose new findings and revelations have surely discredited the so-called “evidence” on the “health benefits of work”.

 
 

Quest for Justice

 

16 Aug. 2016

 
 

For some other, earlier posts of interest, that also relate to this topic:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-controversial-bio-psycho-social-model/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/designated-doctors-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc-the-truth-about-them/
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-a/
(see also parts B’’ to ‘I’ )

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/work-has-fewer-health-benefits-than-mansel-aylward-and-other-experts-claim-it-can-cause-serious-harm/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/nz-finance-minister-bill-english-insults-beneficiaries-with-mansel-aylwards-work-will-set-you-free-approach/

 
 

UPDATE / ADDENDUM FROM 21 AUGUST 2016:

 

Now available in full on the New Zealand Medical Journal or NZMA website:

‘We respond to Dr Gordon Purdie’s Viewpoint, 20 November 2015’

“Mary Wyatt, on behalf of the Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, RACP”

19th February 2016, Volume 129 Number 1430

https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2016/vol-129-no-1430-19-february-2016/6822

The PDF version found via this link:

Click to access Wyatt-2181-NZMJ-1430-FINAL.pdf

 

Comment on the contents:

Of course the persons responsible at the AFOEM and in the UK would never back down from their bizarre position, trying to save their reputation with presenting further hand-picked statistical reports and “evidence”, twisting the truth ever more.

Using statistics from selected groups of (injured) persons for a few geographical areas for certain (mostly long past) periods, and claiming their position is “generally” true, but admitting there are significant variations and other unresolved questions, the AFOEM and its representatives do increasingly look ridiculous. How can they use statistics gathered on accident patients with injuries, and use that info also for various forms of sickness (e.g. congenital conditions) and mental health conditions generally, we ask?

We will endeavour to cover more on this, and will follow the “review” and changes to the AFOEM/RACP “Position Statement”, and what else may come to “explain” and “excuse” their misrepresentation of information.

 

ADDENDUM: FURTHER INFO OF RELEVANCE TO THIS TOPIC – FROM 30 AUGUST 2016:

 

Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor at the MSD, he has a long track record, and has been known for his strong “pro work” focus for many years now, he was once also on the ACC Board (see link):

https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/minister-announces-appointments-acc-board

From 04 Aug. 1997, about 19 years ago:

‘MINISTER ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENTS TO ACC BOARD’

“David Bratt, who is a senior partner in the Newtown Medical Centre and has been a GP for 26 years. He is the Chairperson of the Wellington After-hours Medical Centre, and a board member and trustee of the Te Hopai Trust Board. “These new board members bring a range of experience and skills in health care, the insurance industry, road safety and business management that will make a valuable contribution to the board ” the Minister said.”

He is a New Zealander, now the PHA for MSD and WINZ, and has been behind the new “work focus” approaches at WINZ since 2007, even been appointed under the then still ‘Labour’ government (following advice and ideas from the UK). But he has had visits from Prof. Aylward (‘google’ his name, same as Dr David Bratt’s name) – that UK “expert”, who has a lot to answer for also. Bratt was even visiting that “expert” in April to May 2014, in the UK, to get more “training” from him.

More re Bratt and all that he has to do with:
https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/msd-and-dr-david-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-claiming-worklessness-causes-poor-health/

Click to access msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-publ-post-19-09-16.pdf

 

The magazine ‘NZ Doctor’ has published this on YouTube, the two “experts” repeating the flawed mantra:

Aylward and Bratt, a clearly coordinated effort.

And they both love to stress how they also sucked the unions into their “consensus”, see the following videas with speeches by Dr Beaumont and others from the AFOEM, part of the RACP:


‘Implications of the Health Benefits of Work for New Zealand’, Panel Discussion, Wellington, 01 April 2015

See Dr Bratt as the third person from the right! And Dr Beaumont is of course “chairing” the whole event. God forbid, I wonder whether Helen Kelly does now regret ever having the CTU sign up to all this ideologically driven nonsense?

Dr Bratt appears to be arrogant and seems to emphasize his ideas, based on his developed views as a result of his interactions with Prof Aylward, who is by some considered to have been indirectly responsible for a fair few deaths through failed “welfare reforms” and flawed assessments he developed and help bring in (e.g. the tests he developed that led to the ‘WCA’) in the UK.

And our dear Minister for Social Development, Anne Tolley, has sucked it all up, believing this is the magic and best solution for sick, injured and disabled dependent on benefits:

Or alternatively try this link:
https://youtu.be/P7QziiRzAdQ

“Get em off benefits, get em off ACC, get em working”, no further questions asked, it is all “healthy”, and look at the “actuarial outcomes”, oh yeah. Count the reduced numbers of lingering beneficiaries, who have not “responded” yet to “services”. I know about “wrap-around services”, as a mental health sufferer – who I know – asked WINZ for paying disability allowance for counselling at $200 a session, the WINZ manager never got back, as they will not pay this, same as they will not pay for other services that cost more than the maximum $61 or so in Disability Allowance per week. Get on with it, is the message, forget your “ills” and get a job, that is all the recipes they know. Thank you, Anne Tolley, what you defend and propagate is a sick joke.

 

1 Comment

MSD AND DR DAVID BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING “EVIDENCE”, CLAIMING “WORKLESSNESS” CAUSES POOR HEALTH


THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (MSD) AND DR DAVID BRATT PRESENT MISLEADING “EVIDENCE”, CLAIMING “WORKLESSNESS” CAUSES POOR HEALTH

 

Medical scientific evidence is at best inconclusive, on the supposed “health benefits” of open employment

 
 

CONTENTS:

A) Introduction

B) Welfare reform: Progressive changes to work capability criteria and expectations

C) O.I.A. request for medical scientific evidence on harm to health through “worklessness”, and on MSD’s Health Advisor’s claims in presentations

D) MSD’s O.I.A. responses – failing to deliver convincing evidence

E) MSD’s repeated reluctance to provide official information – an analysis and interpretation of received information

F) A new issue with Dr David Bratt’s deletion of all email correspondence

G) Final conclusions

 
 

A) INTRODUCTION

 

Since taking over as the new government in 2008, following the Fifth Labour Government, the New Zealand National Party has during three terms in government brought about continued, very substantial and somewhat draconian reforms to the social security system in New Zealand. These were the most profound changes to the welfare system that had been made since a previous National government’s radical social policy changes from 1990 onwards, accompanied by the infamous “Mother of All Budgets” in the year 1991. Under the then Finance Minister Ruth Richardson and Social Welfare Minister Jenny Shipley, severe cuts were made to benefits. These measures were followed by imposing stricter eligibility rules and longer stand down periods for benefits, and also radical changes to labour laws with the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act. In 1996/97 the Fourth National Government introduced some further reforms, which were though partly reversed again by a Fifth Labour Government from 1999 onwards. While during the years up to the mid 1980s most welfare reforms included further improvements for those dependent on benefit support, like more generous benefit payments and sundry other support, the changes brought in under National from 1990 to 1998 cut back on social security spending. The intention was to provide “more tightly targeted” welfare support.

The Fifth Labour Government did from 1999 up to 2007/08 bring in other new social welfare changes taking social policy into a new direction. That Labour led government did bring in a new approach to social security, by re-focusing on the concept of “social development” to be integrated with economic development. Apart from some improvements in the years 1999 to 2004, that government introduced new, additional expectations and stricter obligations for those claiming benefits – also for single parents with dependent children and some with sickness and disability. A new policy approach, that was to be gradually introduced, was designed to encourage parents with dependent children and also sick and disabled back into work. It followed some selected reform approaches tried in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and other jurisdictions.

But the latest major changes to the social security system took effect from 2010 to 2013 under the recent and current Fifth National Government. These were the most profound ones since the introduction of the former ‘Domestic Purposes Benefit’ in 1973 and the severe benefit cuts in 1991. Like Labour, National looked at the UK, to adopt new approaches. Some of these more recent social policy changes that were introduced in New Zealand under the so-called ‘Future Focus’ package, and after that also with the ‘Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Act 2013’, were firmly based on radically different, new approaches adopted from the United Kingdom. The U.K. has itself experienced a gradual and wider range of reforms in the social security area, going back as far as to the governments led by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Reforms continued there under Labour governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and have over recent years been accelerated yet again under the Coalition government under Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron. Many of these reforms from the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s included a gradual change in the way persons on benefits granted on grounds of sickness, injury and incapacity (resulting in disability) are being assessed for work capability.

New Zealand governments tend to “learn” from – and follow – a fair few systemic and legislative changes that are first made in the U.K., and integrate these into their own policy framework, and then bring in new laws or amend legislation here. New Zealanders, particularly those with sickness, injury and forms of incapacity, who may at some time in their lives become dependent on social security benefit support, should be very concerned about the changes that have been adopted from the U.K.. This is, because apparently much – if not most – research, that was relied on when introducing new assessment methods and a more forceful work expectation approach as part of the new welfare policy now in place here in New Zealand, comes from just one major research centre in Great Britain, and some “expert” directly or indirectly linked to it.

This is the so-called ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, formerly known as the ‘UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, as it was for years also funded by the insurance company UNUM. Even more recently it has been renamed yet again, and is called the ‘Centre for Psychosocial Research, Occupational and Physician Health (PROPH)’. The Director of that Centre, a Professor Mansel Aylward, did for many years collaborate with UNUM, already when employed as Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the U.K.. He played a significant role in developing new strategies and approaches in assessing work capability, and he was also instrumental in creating the predecessor for what is now known as the ‘Work Capability Assessment’ (WCA) used in the U.K.. As the former Chief Medical Officer for the ‘Department of Social Security’ (DSS, to become the DWP in 2001) Dr Aylward did in cooperation with UnumProvident’s former Vice President John LoCascio initially devise the ‘All Work Test’ that was recommended to and then used by the DSS for assessing sick and disabled for their work capability. That test was later changed a bit to become the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA), which was changed again to become the WCA. The new tests were introduced to replace the sole reliance on a person’s own general practitioner’s diagnosis and assessment that was used until 1995. In the U.K. the former ‘Invalidity Benefit’ was in 1995 replaced by the ‘Incapacity Benefit’, and the PCA was also used after then. The then ‘New Labour’ government did in 2007 or 2008 introduce the new ‘Employment and Support Allowance’ (ESA), for which the WCA was the new used assessment.

Much of the supposed “research” and “findings” that were used as the scientific basis and justification for assessing many sick, injured and incapacitated persons as “fit for work”, comes from researchers and advisors such as Prof. Aylward, and a small number of his colleagues, who are directly or indirectly linked to the mentioned Centre in Wales. They base their research and recommendations on a rather selectively interpreted form of the “bio psycho social model” for diagnosing, assessing and treating sickness and incapacity. Dr Aylward has been regarded by U.K. governments as an “expert” in his field, which must though be viewed as being so, partly due to the usefulness of his findings, in putting into place higher thresholds for qualifying for benefits on health grounds and disability.

Before and while the recent New Zealand welfare reforms were being discussed, formulated and proposed as new policy for the Department of Work and Income (WINZ, as part of MSD), Prof. Mansel Aylward was besides of a selected few other “experts” invited to both Australia and New Zealand, to “inform” leading medical professional organisations and governments of his new “findings” on the “health benefits of work”. The Ministry of Social Development’s newly established Principal Health Advisor, by the name of Dr David Bratt, did at around the same time fully adopt these new ideas, “findings” and approaches from the U.K.. He has since at least 2010 actively been promoting them, through a number of presentations and speeches he has given to medical professional groups and organisations. He has for instance repeatedly been speaking to general practitioner (GP) conferences and also to medical trainers and trainees, to present his rather selectively chosen information, that is supposed to support the findings by researchers like Aylward et al. Dr Bratt has as Principal Health Advisor during at least 2012 and 2013 also had meetings with Dr Aylward and others, and facilitated their participation and input into a MSD selected ‘Health and Disability Panel’ that advised MSD and the government on welfare reform involving health and disability aspects.

Since the introduction of a new ‘Work Capacity Medical Certificate’ by MSD and Work and Income, and new assessment measures based on the mentioned “research”, few appear to have raised serious questions about the validity and robustness of certain used statistics and supposed medical scientific “research” that MSD now rely on. Hence we saw a need to put questions to MSD about this, and an Official Information Act (O.I.A.) request was filed by a trusted person, who was himself very negatively affected by the rather controversial new approach. MSD was asked to present relevant sources and evidence to back up the partly bizarre and bold claims made by Dr Bratt and MSD, particularly in Dr Bratt’s various presentations, which have been delivered to gatherings of medical practitioners and rehabilitation professionals. Also is Dr Bratt responsible to “train” the ‘Designated Doctors’ that MSD and WINZ use for providing supposedly “independent” second opinions on beneficiaries’ health and disability. Dr Bratt has repeated some of his quotations and claims in a number of interviews to the mainstream media, who published his “evidence” in some reports.

This post reveals how limited, inconclusive, poor and at least in part very unconvincing many of the sources and findings are, that Dr Bratt has been using, when supposedly “informing” his target groups about the “evidence”, reasons, purposes and justifications of the new assessment approaches now in place. As MSD appeared to be very reluctant to present much information at all, it became even necessary to make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsmen, to try and obtain remaining asked for information, which was only forthcoming many months later, again only in small bits. Regrettably further requests to the Ombudsman to hold MSD to account for not providing much of the requested information were without success, and a separate post may follow at a later stage, which exposes, how ineffective even the Office of Ombudsmen is, in holding key government departments and personnel to account for their decisions and actions. Most disturbing was also the discovery, that Dr Bratt had apparently deleted “all” of his emails and possibly other records covering his correspondence and contacts with Professor Aylward, and others, and truly bizarre explanations were given for this. That separate matter of concern has been the reason for yet another complaint to the Chief Ombudsman to look into this, as it appears there may be a breach against the Public Records Act 2005.

 

For some revealing information about Prof. Aylward and his research, read the following:

 

Vox Political, UK website, on Prof. Aylward, his role in introducing work tests, 18 January 2013:

Unum, Atos, the DWP and the WCA; Who gets the blame for the biopsychosocial

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/tag/personal-capability-assessment/

Black Triangle Campaign with one of their posts on Prof. Aylward, from 09 Sept. 2012:

Professor Mansel Aylward ~ My! What ‘A Very Tangled Web’

 

Some other links to information on Prof. Aylward and the yet again renamed “Cardiff Centre”:

http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/experts/professor-sir-mansel-aylward-cb-dsc-ffpm-ffom-ffph-frcp/
http://medicine.cf.ac.uk/primary-care-public-health/research/proph/
http://medicine.cardiff.ac.uk/contact/cpdr/
(links worked 18.09.16):

 

A link to one of Prof. Aylward’s presentations Worklessness and Health: A Symposium:

Click to access media_210440_en.pdf

 

The AFOEM position statement The Health Benefits of Work, introduced and promoted by Mansel Aylward in 2010, and updated over recent years. It is now found under another link on the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) website, which is used to justify the new approaches in work ability assessments:

http://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian-and-new-zealand-consensus-statement-on-the-health-benefits-of-work.pdf?sfvrsn=2

http://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/read-realising-the-health-benefits-of-work-position-statement-october-2011-%28pdf-654kb%29.pdf?sfvrsn=0

This is the new web-page of the RACP College, with further information (new links as on 18 Sept. 2016):
https://www.racp.edu.au/
https://www.racp.edu.au/advocacy/division-faculty-and-chapter-priorities/faculty-of-occupational-environmental-medicine
https://www.racp.edu.au/advocacy/division-faculty-and-chapter-priorities/faculty-of-rehabilitation-medicine

(they and other vested interest parties have over time been changing their websites and appear to have restricted access to information formerly made available, as they seem concerned about revelations made by some advocates! Much formerly available information appears to have been deleted!)

Working for a healthier tomorrow, ‘Dame Carol Black’s Review of the health of Britain’s working age population’, TSO, London, 17 March 2008, UK Government:

Click to access hwwb-working-for-a-healthier-tomorrow.pdf

 
 

B) WELFARE REFORM: PROGRESSIVE CHANGES TO WORK CAPABILITY CRITERIA AND EXPECTATIONS

 

Under the last New Zealand Labour led government a change of approach was taken towards more pro-actively assisting not only single parents on the ‘Domestic Purposes Benefit’ and ‘Widows Benefit’ (DPB and WB) back into work, but also towards “encouraging” persons with longer term sickness and disability – being dependent on social security benefits – into paid work. A ‘Sickness and Invalid’s Benefit Strategy’ was introduced by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in 2004.

A policy package called Working New Zealand was introduced and then implemented through changes to the Social Security Act 1964. The package was based on new approaches that had been adopted and introduced in the U.K., which was based on the assumption that “work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic well-being” and “the priority for people of working age should be to find and retain work”.

As part of an over-arching ‘Working for New Zealand’ package, ‘Working for Families’ (WFF, introduced 2004 and implemented from 2005) offered incentives for persons with children and on low income to resume or stay in work, in the form of WFF tax credits. Under ‘Working New Zealand’ there were though few or no direct financial incentives offered to persons remaining dependent on benefits – with or without dependent children. They were rather facing disincentives and penalties if they would not make efforts to prepare for resuming work or to participate in training. One controversial measure was taken in 2005 to phase out the special hardship assistance called ‘Special Benefit’ from 2006, which was replaced by a new benefit component, called ‘Temporary Additional Support’ (TAS). That new supplement was not only capped at about 30 percent of the base benefit rate, it offered Work and Income (WINZ) case managers less flexibility and did leave beneficiaries in hardship worse off than if they were still able to claim the ‘Special Benefit’. The Fifth Labour Government ignored that increases in claims for the former ‘Special Benefit’ were driven by the inadequacy of core benefits, which made it increasingly difficult for families to survive on a core benefit alone.

Under a ‘Working New Zealand: Work-Focused Support’ package a new approach with new requirements and obligations for beneficiaries was brought in. The stated aim was to “increase opportunities for people to participate in the labour market, where work is an appropriate outcome“.

Not dissimilar to comments we have heard from ministers under the present National led government, the then Minister of Social Development and Employment, David Benson-Pope commented: „If we take no further action, assuming that current trends and practices continue, it has been estimated that the cost of supporting the existing population of beneficiaries (as at June 2005) over the lifetime of their claims on Domestic Purposes Benefit, Sickness Benefit and Invalid’s Benefit represents a future liability of $25 billion to the State”.

The new work-focused package was intended to ideologically reframe the social security system around a focus on citizens’ obligations to work – with no corresponding responsibility by the state to provide decent jobs and adequate wages. It was not so much based on ‘evidence’, but following similar efforts by governments in the U.K., the intention was to simply increase work expectations, and rather send signals to potential future benefit claimants, and to the public at large, that work has priority to support in the form of benefits. It was rather about saving welfare costs in the future.

Then Minister David Benson-Pope was quoted with the statement: “The ability to work is often constrained by factors that a person may have little control over, such as the availability of childcare or mental health support services that are necessary for a person to work. Taking into account the context of a person’s daily life requires acknowledgement of and support to address these barriers if employment is to be a realistic outcome”.

Trials of the new service delivery model and the integrated “work focused” approach were conducted from mid 2005 onwards at 12 Work and Income service centres and two contact centres. Part of the new approach were “pre assessment processes”, such as putting clients into certain priority streams like ‘Retention in Work’, ‘Early Response (Rapid Return to Work)’, ‘Work-Focused (Able to Work but not Immediately)’ and ‘Work-Unlikely’ (e.g. people with terminal cancer) categories. Seminars were offered and work brokerage services were expanded. Initially only new applicants were offered and could voluntarily attend certain seminars. But from September 2006 also existing beneficiaries would gradually be approached and asked to participate in case management and employment assistance efforts. Those in the ‘Work-Unlikely’ stream were not offered assistance to employment, but they could access services if they expressed an interest to participate.

From 01 July 2005 Invalid’s Benefit recipients, who had previously only been able to work no more than 15 hours per week before they lost entitlement to the benefit, could with the agreement of their Case Manager, work 15 hours or more per week for up to six months without losing their benefit of entitlement. This was offered as an incentive for some persons with severe and long term sickness and disability, to trial work. Additional employment services were introduced for those suffering illness and/or disability, involving employment coordinators, vocational assessment tools and some targeted health interventions. These service additions were intended to reduce the time persons with ill health and disability may stay on primary income support.

Through the ‘Social Security Amendment Bill 2006’ three of the trialled streams were introduced in the form of ‘Work Support’, ‘Work Support Development’ and ‘Community Support’ (the latter for DPB and IB recipients). While participation in the new service model and up-front work-focuses services prior to benefit receipt was still voluntary during the mentioned trials (which most that were approached accepted), the new Bill provided for compulsory participation in certain services. From September 2007 on, it would become mandatory for unemployed persons applying for a benefit to participate in “pre-benefit activities”. There were also additional requirements introduced for persons being work-tested. Planning and activity requirements were brought in for sickness and invalid’s beneficiaries, and for spouses or partners of beneficiaries with a dependent child under 6. Sick and disabled were subjected to the same planning and activity requirements and sanctions as DPB and WB recipients. Failure to meet requirements would result in benefit cuts. The new Bill clearly indicated that sickness or disability would no longer be considered a good reason to be out of work, particularly given the enhanced employment assistance for sickness and invalid’s beneficiaries provided during the trials. While also offering some other, perhaps minor improvements, the Bill removed much discretion, imposed more regulation and introduced a greater degree of coercion for many dependent on social security benefits.

The last Labour government also had plans to move towards a single core benefit, but given the continued discussion and lack of agreement as to how to re-design the system to facilitate this, and the fact that Labour lost the general election in 2008, this plan was never proceeded with.

Along with the changes that resulted from the passing of the Social Security Amendment Act 2007, which enacted new provisions proposed with the Social Security Amendment Bill 2006, MSD created senior advisory positions in the form of Principal Health Advisor, Principal Disability Advisor, and a number of subordinate advisory positions in the form of Regional Health Advisor and Regional Disability Advisor. Also were further supportive positions of Health and Disability Coordinator created. These positions were appointed by the Chief Executive of MSD under section 41 of the State Sector Act 1988. The mentioned Principal Advisors were commissioned with offering both “strategic leadership” and “advice” to Work and Income staff, particularly the Regional Health and Disability Teams, on health and disability matters. They were tasked also with giving medical and expert advice on individual cases, where the subordinate Advisors may need further guidance. Also was and still is their role to liaise with health professionals like general practitioners (GPs), with Work and Income’s “Designated Doctors” and with health and disability service agencies and providers in the community.

Since 2007 the same originally appointed Advisors have been active in their roles, and this includes the more prominent Principal Health Advisor is Dr David Bratt, who formerly worked as an advisor for the Capital and Coast District Health Board, and who is himself a qualified GP. In 2008 MSD conducted a “designated doctor training program” through meetings held across the country, where Dr Bratt and the former Ministry Advisor Dr Rankin informed Work and Income’s contracted doctors of the Ministry’s processes and expectations in regards to medical examinations and certification done on WINZ clients with health conditions and disability. Such training continues to this day, but is no longer held through group meetings, but is rather offered less formally by way of ongoing consultations on changes to processes, and at times on a case by case basis.

The whole new medical and work capability assessment approach appears to lean heavily on what certain “experts”, mostly from the ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ (formerly “sponsored” by UNUM Provident insurance) based at Cardiff University in Wales, U.K. have been presenting as “research findings” over recent years. The Director of that Centre, Professor Mansel Aylward, who was once also Chief Medical Officer for the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has played a major role, and he was also behind a controversial work capacity test that preceded the now still used ‘Work Capability Assessment’ (WCA), which has also been heavily criticised by disabled, their representative organisations, by advocacy groups and also health professional representatives in the U.K., for failing especially persons with mental health conditions.

There have been further changes to the social security system in New Zealand, which culminated in a major reform drive under the former and present National led governments. More work test requirements, conditions and harsher sanctions were introduced in 2010 for sole parents with dependent children, and also for persons on the former sickness benefit under the “Future Focus” policy. Effective from July 2013 there were radical changes made to the benefit categories, merging seven former ones into only three main benefit types, and yet more expectations and requirements were introduced for the same kinds of groups of beneficiaries, with yet higher expectations for sick and disabled to also prepare and look for work. Advisors from the U.K. were consulted, and new approaches tried there (with rather disastrous results) were in part adopted here, so as to now consider persons with health conditions, injury and disability as also in most cases being “fit” for certain, “suitable” work. This approach is based on a change of criteria for assessing persons’ sickness, injuries, impairments and capability to work. Like in the U.K. the focus is now rather on what persons can hypothetically do, rather than what they cannot do (physically and mentally).

Throughout the continued reforms, there has been a lack of transparency in regards to how medical and work capability assessments are now being conducted, what solid medical scientific advice is being relied on, to apply a more stringent approach, where even persons with serious mental health conditions are increasingly approached, to not go or stay on the now introduced ‘Jobseeker Support – Deferred’ benefit, and rather try and find and stay in work. There has been anecdotal evidence of some of Work and Income’s “Designated Doctors” making bizarre, questionable recommendations, which are at times in stark contrast to what a client’s own doctor may have diagnosed. In some cases bias has been suspected, and like in the UK, more people raise questions about the justification and appropriateness of the new, stringent approach with putting higher expectations on sick, injured and disabled to work in employment on the competitive, stressful, open job market.

Since at least 2010 Dr Bratt has as Principal Health Advisor given a number of presentations and speeches to meetings of health practitioners and other health professional organisations, in which he has made some bizarre and bold comments, references and statements. Repeatedly he likened “benefit dependence” to “drug dependence”, and his presentation (apparently backed by his colleague Anne Hawker) called Ready, Steady, Crook – are we killing our patients with kindness?, is a typical example of how heavily he appears to rely on selectively gathered statistical and other information.

This post will present information that had been sought from MSD, to offer explanations and medical scientific information, to support the unconvincing information Dr Bratt has regularly used in many of his presentations. Only two direct responses were delivered upon a request filed on 16 January 2014, and only limited further comments and explanations were obtained recently, with the rather “humble” assistance from Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson.

 

For some useful information on welfare reforms it is also worth reading the following publications:

 

‘WORKING FOR NEW ZEALAND’: A Background Paper on Recent and Proposed Welfare Reforms in New Zealand, Louise Humpage, Public Policy Group, University of Auckland, March 2007

Click to access Humpage%20Welfare%20forum%20background%20paper%20Mar%2007.pdf

‘ESCAPING THE WELFARE MESS?’, Susan St John and Keith Rankin, Working Paper Nr 267, Revised December 2009:

Click to access WelfareMessrevised09.pdf

 
 

Other information of interest can be found in the following publications via links here:

 

Sickness and Invalid’s Benefits: New Developments and Continuing Challenges, MSD website, plus link to relevant PDF with report by Neil Lunt, Social Policy Programme, Massey University, published in ‘Social Policy Journal of New Zealand’, Issue 27, March 2006:

https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj27/sickness-and-invalids-benefits-27-pages77-99.html

Click to access 27-pages77-99.pdf

 

Understanding the Growth in Invalid’s Benefit Receipt in New Zealand

By: Moira Wilson, Keith McLeod, Centre for Social Research and Evaluation, Ministry of Social Development, from ‘Social Policy Journal of New Zealand’, Issue 29, Nov. 2006:

http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj29/understanding-the-growth-29-pages127-145.html

Click to access 29-pages-127-145.pdf

Welfare in New Zealand, Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_in_New_Zealand

 

‘Office for Disability Issues’, website:

http://www.odi.govt.nz/nzds/work-plans/2007-08/dpt-social-development.html

See:

“4) Work and Income” …

“2) Working New Zealand, Work Focused Support: Support and Services for People in Work Development Support and Community Support Service Streams project(t)”

OAG, Office of the Auditor General, website publication:

‘Part 2: The Working New Zealand: Work-Focused Support Programme’

http://www.oag.govt.nz/2009/social-development/part2.htm

 

OAG, Office of the Auditor General, website publication:

‘Part 3: Determining eligibility for sickness and invalids’ benefits’

http://www.oag.govt.nz/2009/social-development/part3.htm

 

‘Social Security Amendment Act 2007’ (changes introduced through the ‘Social Security Amendment Bill 2006’):

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2007/0020/latest/DLM408545.html

 

‘Working for Families’, Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_for_Families

 

‘Left Further Behind 2011’, Chapter 6, Working for Families; a Child Poverty Action Group (C.P.A.G.) Monograph, M. Claire Dale, Mike O’Brien, Susan St John:

Click to access 2011%20Lfb%206%20%20St%20John%20Working%20for%20families.pdf

Can the ‘In Work Tax Credit’ be justified as an in-work benefit?, Susan St John and M Claire Dale, NZEA annual conference 2009:

Click to access PresentationEconomistconference.pdf

‘THE TEN MYTHS OF THE ‘IN WORK TAX CREDIT’, Susan St John, C.P.A.G.:

Click to access CPAG%2010%20MYTHS%20IWTC.pdf

Re: Appointments made by the Chief Executive of MSD – of a Principal Health Advisor, a Principal Disability Advisor and various Regional Health and Disability Advisors: See ‘State Sector Act 1988’

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1988/0020/latest/whole.html#DLM5478489

Read section 41 for details on the power of the Chief Executive to delegate powers and/or functions, also to employees and advisors.

 

 

C) O.I.A. REQUEST FOR MEDICAL SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE ON HARM TO HEALTH THROUGH “WORKLESSNESS”, AND ON MSD’S HEALTH ADVISOR’S CLAIMS IN PRESENTATIONS

 

Questions put to MSD in an O.I.A. request from 16 January 2014:

1. Information in the form of clear statistical evidence of Dr David Bratt’s claims in his presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook – Are we killing our patients with kindness?’ (presented in Christchurch, 2010), that 30 % of GP’s “had experienced a sense of threat and intimidation” (see page 32), which in context of the presentation appears to be coming from patients seeking medical certification for sicknesses and/or disabilities (for Work and Income benefit receipt).

As this appears to be based on a kind of survey, I request a copy of the authentic survey result report this information is based on. If the report is not held by the Ministry of Social Development or Work and Income, I do in any case ask for a clear reference to where that particular information is documented, held and can be found. I also ask for a transcript or copy of the original questions asked in that survey. I furthermore ask for information on whether this is information that relates to the whole practice time that GPs have had in their past lives, or whether it was based on experiences in annual or other time defined periods. I request your clarification, whether a distinction was made in the survey question(s) between a sense of threat and a sense of intimidation, and whether any particular details on the kinds of threats or intimidation were given. Furthermore I ask for information on the frequency of such experiences GPs may have had over defined periods.

2. Dr David Bratt has, in his capacity as the Principal Health Advisor for the Ministry of Social Development, regularly made presentations of the types just mentioned under ‘1.’ above, which was to GP conferences and other health professional meetings, which contained a range of apparently statistical data, for which the exact source has in some cases not been clearly given. Another such presentation is Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too (from 2012). He has repeatedly stated the above claims on presentations bearing logos and other details, showing that they are apparently Work and Income authorised.

On the pages 13, 20, 21 and 35 of ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’ Dr Bratt makes references and comments in which he likens or compares “benefit dependence” to “drug dependence”. I seek information from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), whether it is the official position of MSD and Work and Income (WINZ) that benefit receipt is “addictive” like a “drug”, as suggested by Dr Bratt on page 35, where it reads: “the “benefit” – an addictive debilitating drug with significant adverse effects to both the patient and their family (whānau) – not dissimilar to smoking”. Dr Bratt also commented in an article in the “NZ Doctor” publication from 01 August 2012 that – quote: “Long term unemployment has been shown as bad as smoking 10 packets of cigarettes daily”. He continues: As a drug, it would be an addictive, debilitating substance, he told the RNZCGP education convention. If the Ministry shares the comments and views of Dr David Bratt, I ask for clear medical scientific evidence that this is the case, and I also ask for references to scientific reports proving this, preferably quoting information from such reports. It would assist if the Ministry could provide some consistent scientific evidence of this, from preferably a number of scientific reports and sources.

3. Further to the presentation Ready, Steady, Crook, on page 32 there is a range of other statistical data mentioned, which is also claimed to come from a “GP survey”, it includes claims that of GPs surveyed on (apparently related to medical certification and associated) pressures they faced, that about 71 felt it was a mechanism to provide income to the patient”, “55 % felt W&I staff created an expectation, 40 % – because they believed there was no work available and 31 % – felt W+I weren’t doing anything for the patient.

In relation to those “results” or “answers” form GPs, I ask the following:

a) Which particular survey/s do these “results” come from, and what were the exact questions asked in relation to the data presented in that – and certain other presentations – by Dr David Bratt?

b) Which of any of those alleged “pressures”, if any, had contributed to a GP’s decision on whether or not to, or how to complete, a medical certificate for a patient dependent on, or intending to apply for a benefit from Work and Income?

c) Which of any of those alleged “pressures”, if any, had given the GPs questioned the ultimate motivation, to issue a medical certificate or not, or to make any other determination on the specific way of completing medical certification?

4. Also in the same presentation Ready, Steady, Crook on page 23, and in certain other ones, Dr Bratt claims that according to both Australian and New Zealand studies there is a chance of it being only 70 percent likely that a person “ever” returns to work after 20 days off work, it being only 50 percent likely for a person to “ever” return to work after 45 days off work and it being only 35 percent likely for a person to “ever” return to work after 70 days off work.

Please supply copies of the authentic statistical evidence for this data to be correct and also current, and please provide the source information, or at least a clear reference to the report/s stating so, where records may not be kept by MSD or WINZ themselves. I also ask for clarification of whether the information in the mentioned presentation/s is relating to the chance to really “ever” return to any work, or whether it is rather referring to “ever” return to the same job that may have been held by a person until she/he got sick, injured, impaired and/or disabled, and was consequently forced to stop working due to that.

5. Please provide information on Dr David Bratt’s claim in a ‘NZ Doctor’ publication from 01 August 2012 (article by Lucy Ratcliffe), where he states: A UK study found of the main obstacles for going to work, medical problems made up just 3 % of the list. He has made similar claims in his various presentations. As the data appears rather unspecified and inconclusive, I request the clear scientific report data, and evidence, that this is the case. I seek information that Dr Bratt, MSD and/or WINZ hold on this study, and on the source of the report data. Please provide the information from the study that shows what exact questions to what study group of persons were asked, what detailed information was gathered under what criteria and scope. Does this apply to all working age persons simply going to work or trying to work, whether sick or not, of whom some suffer sickness, impairments and disability? Or was the studied group of persons actually made up of affected sick and disabled only? It is hard to believe that such a small percentage of sick and disabled on health related benefits are seeing their condition as an obstacle to work. This information is sought to clarify the claims made in the article and various presentations, as out of context information can easily misinform and mislead.

6. Dr David Bratt’s presentations list a fair amount of information, which he claims prove the harms of “worklessness”, and of being out of work (for sickness, injury or possibly other reasons). Please provide information that Dr David Bratt has as Principal Health Advisor presented in similar kinds of presentations, or in other forms of communications, about the harms that exist at workplaces, about certain harms caused by work, about certain types of work causing ill health or injury, and about insufficiently equipped and organised work places, or particular work practices, work duration, or any other aspects relating to work or employment, that may be causing harms to health and safety of workers. This is for the case Dr Bratt has such information, and that he has gathered, obtained and/or prepared such information for the Ministry of Social Development and/or Work and Income. It must be presumed, or at least be expected, that the Ministry is equally concerned about these issues, which beneficiaries referred into open or other employment may face.

7. Please provide information that Dr David Bratt as Principal Health Advisor may have gathered, obtained, prepared and presented, which gives details about the negative and harmful health effects of suffering from relative or general poverty, instead of simple worklessness, that people on benefits or in low paid work may face. There have been international studies on the effects of poverty, and how poverty does affect the health and well-being of adults and their children, irrespective of their employment status. I am interested to receive such information that Dr David Bratt has on file, that the MSD or Work and Income may have on file in their archives, that is being used to raise awareness on these matters, which are of serious concern, apart from concerns about employment of beneficiaries and their dependents.

8. I also request information that Dr Bratt may have gathered, obtained, prepared and presented, that states that the quality of health of a beneficiary, who suffers from sickness, illness, physical or mental impairment and disability, may rather much more depend on individual circumstances, and that some simple forms of physical activity or mental activity, other than work in the form of “open employment” (for paid income), may prove more beneficial than putting such vulnerable persons under any expectations or pressures to seek and obtain paid work on the open job market.

9. Please provide a list of the various “research” sources and reports that Dr David Bratt has used for obtaining information for his various presentations (of the types as mentioned above), and please state clearly, which ones were from professionals like Dr Gordon Waddell, Professor Dr Mansel Aylward and others who worked at (and in cooperation with) the ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, formerly funded by “Unum Provident” (a US and UK based disability and health insurance provider), at Cardiff University in the UK. It would perhaps assist to also get a percentage rate for the contents of data from the “researchers” at that Centre, which has been relied on and used for Dr Bratt’s presentations. There is concern amongst the public, that Professor M. Aylward and some colleagues have repeatedly attempted to claim, that a high number of persons suffering “moderate” mental health or musculo-skeletal conditions actually only suffer from alleged “illness belief”.

10. Please provide information on the times, dates, types of and purposes of contacts, meetings and communications (including correspondence) that Dr David Bratt had with

a. Professor Dr Mansel Aylward (from the ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, Cardiff University),

b. Dr David Beaumont (formerly ATOS employee, from the UK, now ‘Pathways to Work’ director, and advisor to MSD, and formerly also to ACC), and

c. Dr Gordon Waddell (‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’) –

in the course of performing his duties, and also otherwise, while holding his position as Principal Health Advisor for MSD and Work and Income.

Dr David Bratt has in his capacity as the senior advisor for the Ministry of Social Development, on health conditions and related matters affecting Work and Income beneficiaries, regularly held speeches and presentations (as listed above). He has at such occasions been presenting PDF, PowerPoint or similar presentations, detailing aspects of the subject matters he would cover.

The above specified information is sought for reasons of providing public transparency and accountability, and assurance in Dr David Bratt’s professional competency and integrity as Principal Health Advisor for the Ministry, while being a qualified medical practitioner in a public service role. As he is commissioned with communicating to medical practitioners and other health professionals, the information that MSD and WINZ deem essential to present, in order to facilitate the effective co-operation between staff working for the Ministry and health professionals, there is a strong public interest that this information is made available.

The above requested specified information is sought to be made available under the Official Information Act 1982 within the specified time frame of 20 working days.

I kindly and respectfully ask that the information is made available by way of a sufficiently detailed written response, and by way of good quality, easily readable photo copies of original documents containing the relevant information. Otherwise it can also in part be made available by way of equally good quality computer generated printouts. If not available in hard copy form, a standard CD containing the corresponding, relevant documents and information in PDF, or similarly common, readable data format can be accepted.

Thank you for your acknowledgment and appreciated co-operation.

Yours sincerely

 

Xxxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx

 
 

Sundry reference information on Dr David Bratt’s presentations – and of his comments quoted in media reports – can be found via the following links:

1) ‘Ready, Steady, Crook – Are we killing our patients with kindness?

Click to access C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

(presentation by Dr D. Bratt and A. Hawker, for Work and Income, to GP conference in Christchurch, 2010, see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35 for comparisons to drug dependence)

 

2) ‘Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too!’

Click to access Fri_DaVinci_1400_Bratt_Medical%20Certificates%20are%20Clinical%20Instruments%20too%20-%20June%202012.pdf

(GP presentation by Dr D. Bratt, 2012, see pages 3, 16 and 33 for his likening of benefit dependence to “drug dependence”)

 

3) ‘Pressure – No Pressure’ (How to deal with “pushy” patients)

https://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjtperG0pjPAhVKwGMKHe5TB_AQFggaMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rgpn.org.nz%2FNetwork%2Fmedia%2Fdocuments%2FConference2011%2FD-Bratt.ppt&usg=AFQjCNFEdYN_dDW9BAZvZo_cQpC2rFyelg&bvm=bv.133178914,d.dGo

(PowerPoint presentation by Dr Bratt, downloadable from the web, again likening benefit dependence to “drug dependence” and presenting a lot of selectively gathered information)

 

4) ‘Shifting Your Primary Focus to Health and Capacity – A New Paradigm’

Click to access WS%20142%20Bratt%20-%20Shifting%20Your%20Primary%20Focus%20to%20Health%20and%20Capacity.pdf

(Prof. Sir Mansel Aylward, Director Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, Cardiff University; Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor, Ministry of Social Development; joint presentation at GP CME Presentation – June 2013; questioning “traditional” diagnosis on a medical model basis, and promoting the Aylward version of the “bio psycho-social model”, and even promoting ‘Long Acting Reversible Contraception’ to improve employ-ability of women, see page 45!!!)

 

5) ‘Harms lurk for benefit addicts’

http://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2012/august-2012/1-august-2012/harms-lurk-for-benefit-addicts.aspx

(article in NZ Doctor magazine, by Lucy Ratcliffe, 01 August 2012, where Dr Bratt is again quoted with his preposterous claims about benefit dependence being like “drug dependence”, and that: “A UK study found of the main obstacles for going to work, medical problems made up just 3 per cent of the list.”)

try this link if the above does not work:

Dr D. Bratt, MSD, ‘Harm lurks for benefit addicts’, article, NZ Doctor, 01.08.12, scan, 18.08.2012

*****Please search online under the title of the article, if the link does not work!*****

 

6) See also: 1 PDF file containing the position description for Principal Disability Advisor (original from 2007), received with an earlier O.I.A. reply from MSD:

MSD, O.I.A. Request, Princ. Health Advisor, position description, highlighted points, Jan. 2007

 

7). See the anonymised letter containing the questions put to MSD on 16 Jan. 2014:

MSD, O.I.A. rqst, re Dr Bratt, presentations, contacts, anon. ltr w. questions, 16.01.14

 

8) See also the supposed “evidence based” position statement launched via the AFOEM from 2010 onwards, presented and promoted by Prof. Mansel Aylward, called ‘The Health Benefits of Work’, which is now found under another link on the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) website, which is used to justify the new approaches in work ability assessments:

http://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian-and-new-zealand-consensus-statement-on-the-health-benefits-of-work.pdf?sfvrsn=2

This is the new web-page of the RACP College, with further information:

https://www.racp.edu.au/
https://www.racp.edu.au/advocacy/division-faculty-and-chapter-priorities/faculty-of-occupational-environmental-medicine
https://www.racp.edu.au/advocacy/division-faculty-and-chapter-priorities/faculty-of-rehabilitation-medicine

(they and some other vested interest parties have over time been changing their websites and restricted access to information formerly made available, as they appear concerned about revelations made by some advocates!)

 
 

D) MSD’s O.I.A. RESPONSES – FAILING TO DELIVER CONVINCING EVIDENCE

 

1. Response from 27 February 2014:

 

“27 FEB 2014”

 

 

“Dear XX XXXXXXXX”

“Thank you for your letter and email of 16 January 2014 requesting, under the Official Information Act 1982, detailed information regarding Dr Bratt’s presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’ and his meetings with other health professionals.

Dr Bratt’s presentations are designed as interactive workshops with medical professionals. The slides are merely a prompt and do not provide the context of the discussions. There are no transcripts of these discussions.

 

Statistics in the presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’

The majority of references which highlight the adverse effects of worklessness are readily available in the Position Paper “Realising the Health Benefits of Work” produced by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. A further reference list is available in the paper commissioned by the United Kingdom Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions by Dame Carol Black entitled “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”.

The figures showing the likelihood of return to work are from the following papers:

● Campbell Research and Consulting. 2008/09 Australia + New Zealand Return to Work Monitor. Melbourne: The Heads of Workers Compensation Authorities; 2009

● RTW Trends in Australia and New Zealand. Dr Mary Wyatt, 2009 which is publicly available at http://www.rtwmatters.org/publications/all-jurisdictions-rtw-monitor-part-1/

● Johnson D, Fry T “Factors Affecting Return to Work after Injury: A study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority. Melbourne: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research; 2002.

Please find enclosed a copy of the Work and Income Medical Certificate Survey – 2010 and the results of that survey which featured in Dr Bratt’s presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’.

 

Lucy Ratcliffe’s Article

With regards to Dr Bratt’s statement quoted by Lucy Ratcliffe – the figures were taken from a presentation by Sir Mansel Aylward to a representative group of medical professionals from various medical colleges in 2012. The study was independently undertaken by Cardiff University where recipients of a disability-related benefit were interviewed to help identify the key factors that prevented their return to the workforce.

 

Dr Bratt and Other Practitioners

Sir Mansel Aylward was invited to New Zealand by Sir Peter Gluckman, the Chief Science Advisor, to review the ‘Growing Up in New Zealand’ study. In June 2013 Sir Mansel Aylward returned to New Zealand to present his report into the study. During his visit to the Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Dr Bratt met with him to discuss the extensive work he has been involved with about the adverse health effects of worklessness. At the invitation of the New Zealand Medical Association Sir Mansel Aylward was a keynote speaker at the General Practitioner Conference and Medical Exhibition in Rotorua in June 2013 where he addressed over 900 General Practitioners. Prior and subsequent to this visit, Dr Bratt had numerous email and phone conversations with Sir Mansel Aylward to confirm the travel arrangements and conference details.

Dr David Beaumont is an occupational medicine physician who is the President-Elect of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. He was co-chair of the group that collated the Position Paper on “Realising the Health Benefits of Work”. Dr Beaumont does not and has never worked at the Ministry. He was part of the external advisory committee representing the various health and disability organisations that the Ministry co-ordinated regarding the Welfare Reform programme. Dr Bratt’s contact with Dr Beaumont was limited to facilitating meetings with Sir Mansel Aylward.

Dr Bratt has not met with or had any correspondence with Professor Gordon Waddell.

The remainder of your request for information is very broad and substantial manual collation would be required to locate and prepare all of the information within scope of your request. As such I refuse the balance of your request under section 18(f) of the Official Information Act. The greater public interest is in the effective and efficient administration of the public service.

I have considered whether the Ministry would be able to respond to your request given extra time, or the ability to charge for the information requested. I have concluded that, in either case, the Ministry’s ability to undertake its work would still be prejudiced.

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful on this occasion. You have the right to seek an investigation and review of my response by the Ombudsman, whose address for contact purposes is:

The Ombudsman

Office of the Ombudsman

PO Box 10-152

WELLINGTON 6143

Yours sincerely

 

Debbie Power

Deputy Chief Executive Work and Income”

……………………….

 

Attached to that letter was a 3-page copy of the mentioned ‘Work and Income Medical Certificate Survey – 2010’, with a set of questions and the summary of answers. It is attached to the response from MSD dated 27 Feb. 2014, and the whole response can be viewed and downloaded here:

MSD, O.I.A. rqst, re Dr Bratt, presentations, contacts, anon., 16.01., reply by CE, 27.02.14

 
 

2. MSD’s further response by email, from 12 Nov. 2014 (10:19 am)

 

Following a complaint letter by the O.I.A. requester to the Office of Ombudsmen (from 09 March 2014), which will also be attached to this post, the Ministry did many months later, on 12 Nov. 2014, send a further response by email:

 

“Dear Mr Xxxxxxxxx”

“We refer to your Official Information Act request of 16 January 2014, where you sought detailed information regarding Dr Bratt’s presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’ and his meetings with other health professionals. Further to this request and your subsequent complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman, we are able to provide you with further clarification regarding the questions you believe were not fully answered:

• question one: Whether the information obtained from GPs related to a specified time period? The survey was carried out in 2010 at several large National General Practitioner Organisations’ annual conferences. No time period was specified for responses to apply to. The date, 2010, is on the subject heading of the survey sheet – as already provided

• question three: No response to part c) of the question – the purpose of the survey question was to gauge the extent to which GPs are aware of additional “external” pressures on them when completing Medical Certificates. No in-depth analysis was possible on the basis of a simple self-reported survey sheet. The responding GPs were not asked the questions – they were just handed the survey sheets to complete and return to Dr Bratt if and when they chose to do so

• question four: No clarification of whether the statistical information relates to persons ever returning to any work, or whether the person may never return to the same kind of job or work previously undertaken – it is Dr Bratt’s understanding that the Australian/New Zealand statistics quoted relate to the likelihood of a person having been out of work unintentionally for a period of time ever returning to their original job or a similar one. You have already been supplied with the reference

• question 10: Exact times, dates and types of contacts with the listed professionals were not provided – Dr Bratt does not keep a record of the times, dates, and types of contacts he has had with the listed professionals or anyone else. Dr Bratt’s emails from that period have been deleted. Many contacts were personal to Dr Bratt. Dr Bratt has never had any contact with Professor Waddell

 

We hope you find this information helpful.

 

The Office of the Ombudsman has been forwarded a copy of this email. They will be in touch in due course.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Ombudsman and Privacy Complaint Services

Ministry of Social Development

 

A scan copy of that anonymised response from 12 Nov. 2014 can be viewed by clicking this link here:

MSD, O.I.A. rqst, re Dr Bratt, presentations, contacts, anon., 16.01., further reply, 12.11.14

 
 

E) MSD’s REPEATED RELUCTANCE TO PROVIDE OFFICIAL INFORMATION – AN ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION OF RECEIVED INFORMATION

 

When looking at the rather specific, clear requests and questions 1 to 10, that were put to MSD by way of the above O.I.A. request from 16 January 2014, and then looking at the information provided with the responses from MSD on 27 February and also 12 Nov. 2014, the following becomes clear:

MSD chose not to respond at all to a number of questions or requests, MSD only provided some of the asked for information on some other requests, and MSD actually only properly answered a few of the total number of requests. We can say that the response from 27 February 2014 was rather brief, superficial and poor, as it simply ignored many requests, and apart from that provided only limited information in a summarised manner. That was no coincidence, and will rather have been intentional. There appears to have been a reluctance to provide anything of substance that could lead to further follow-up questioning by the requester, or for that sake other members of the public.

 

Requests/questions 2 and 9

 

So MSD appear to have started with first responding in part only to requests 2 and 9 in the O.I.A. – by simply referring the requester to two “papers” that Dr Bratt appears to have primarily relied on when preparing his presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’. These are:

1). “Realising the Health Benefits of Work”, produced by the ‘Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’ (AFOEM), largely based on “research” information presented by controversial Professor Mansel Aylward;

2). “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”, commissioned by the United Kingdom Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions – by Dame Carol Black, who has relied on similar research findings as Prof. Aylward.

Both of these “position papers”, containing selected statistical – and also some other research data with their references, are well known to insiders, but they are both significantly influenced by the so often quoted same “experts” like Professor Mansel Aylward and some of his like minded colleagues like Waddell and Burton, with links to the once so called ‘(UNUM Provident) Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ in Cardiff, Wales. Both publications contain numerous references to these and selected other professionals, and must therefore be treated with caution, as to their “independence”. Even Professor Aylward has in recent years repeatedly admitted, that more research is needed to be conducted in the areas he has “researched”, after having faced wide spread criticism in the U.K. and elsewhere. References offered do otherwise represent a list of various statistical and other employment or welfare related reports, with little solid medical scientific value. I will address requests 2 and 9 separately in more detail later in this post.

 

Request/question 4

 

O.I.A. request 4 sought specified information in the form of statistical evidence for claims Dr Bratt made on slide or page 23 of his presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’, which has also appeared in some other presentations. There he stated the following re ‘Worklessness’, sounding rather definitive:

If the person is off work for:

20 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 70%

45 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 50%

70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35%

(On page 22 of the presentation a reference is made to “both Australian and NZ studies”)

There was some information provided to answer request 4, but it is again of very limited usefulness, as all that MSD offered in the first response from 27 Feb. 2014 were three sources of largely statistical information on the likelihood of persons returning to work, based mainly on surveys:

1). Campbell Research and Consulting: ‘2008/09 Australia + New Zealand Return to Work Monitor’; ‘The Heads of Workers Compensation Authorities’; Melbourne, 2009

2). ‘RTW Trends in Australia and New Zealand’; Dr Mary Wyatt, 2009; publicly available at http://www.rtwmatters.org/publications/all-jurisdictions-rtw-monitor-part-1/

3). Johnson D, Fry T “Factors Affecting Return to Work after Injury: A study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority. Melbourne: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research”; 2002.

When examining these “sources” more closely, they represented actually just two, as 1) and 2) above used the same survey data gathered annually by ‘Campbell Research and Consulting’!

The annual Campbell Research and Consulting Australia + New Zealand Return to Work Monitor has been based on annual phone surveys that only covered outcomes and processes reported by sample groups of between a total of about two to three and a half thousand workers involved in workers compensation schemes. It has not included workers with employers that are self insured. Selected persons, who were paid at least 10 days income compensation, were 7 to 9 months after lodging their claims simply being asked a set of questions relating to past or existing work, their individual circumstances and their prospects to return to work, and what could have impacted on this. The survey has not included Western Australia, ignored some types of useful important information, and is therefore hardly all that representative. It did not provide proper medical, scientific information on the direct impact of injuries, sickness and impairments on work ability. The one report quoted only covers a survey for 2008 to 2009. As for data collected for New Zealand showing some differences to that gathered for jurisdictions in Australia, one must consider that there may be different standards for occupational health and safety, and for the application of such for both countries. Also may there be systemic differences in regards to accessible rehabilitation and health care, in income and compensation payment levels, in availability of suitable employment, and of course in economic circumstances, which would all play a role and contribute to some variances in the presented figures. Yet overall, trends and levels for Return to Work (RTW) have been quite similar and mostly stable over time, in both New Zealand and Australia.

An online publication of the mentioned report can be found via this link:

Click to access Australia%20and%20New%20Zealand%20Return%20to%20Work%20Monitor%202008-2009.pdf

As for the information presented in reply to O.I.A. request 4, which was asking for evidence backing the statistics quoted by Dr Bratt in his presentation Ready, Steady, Crook (page 23), a reader of that report will struggle to find such evidence in the mentioned report. It appears that Dr Bratt was re-interpreting selectively chosen data, to suit his agenda to “prove” things, that are not actually backed up by information contained in any of the referred to reports.

Yes, the various sets of statistical data presented in tables and graphs even contradict some of Dr Bratt’s other frequent claims, that are based on other “research” by “experts” like Mansel Aylward, such as that most barriers for persons to return to work are not related to sickness or disability. Roughly half of all persons returning to work claim that they fully recovered from their injuries, and only a marginal percentage mentions “psychological” reasons for not having been able to return to work (see also a table 9 on page 23 and table 10 on page 25 of the above report from 2008-2009).

As for Dr Mary Wyatt, and her reports on the ‘Return To Work Matters’ website, she is herself editor for that website and has authored many publications on it. She is also mentioned as having been chair of the ‘Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Policy Committee’ and is a member of the ‘College of Physicians Policy and Advocacy Committee’. As we know, under President Elect Dr David Beaumont, it was the AFOEM itself, which invited Mansel Aylward to present his “findings” to the Faculty, which was the launch of the agenda to influence the New Zealand and Australian medical professional organisations to bring in new UK style medical and work capability assessment approaches. Mary Wyatt did alongside Mansel Aylward attend the launch of the so-called ‘Realising the Health Benefits of Work’ position statement in May 2010. Dr Beaumont was the co-chair of the AFOEM’s ‘Position Statement Working Group’. Again, we see that all the usual, known key promoters of these policies joined their forces to introduce them here in “Down Under”.

While there are claims made that RTW rates have declined over recent years (up to 2009), this appears to be only so for Australia, but not New Zealand, because on the website it says this:

“There has been no material change in the time taken to return to work in New Zealand”

See the website page found via this link for more details, under ‘Executive Summary’:

http://www.rtwmatters.org/publications/all-jurisdictions-rtw-monitor-part-1/

 

Also take note of this information on the same page:

“Claim cost data was provided by Australian jurisdictions only. Claim costs have increased across all jurisdictions, with the average cost of claims at six months up an average of 22%. This ranged from 11% in SA to 37% in Victoria. Information on claims costs was not available for NZ.“

“It should be noted that W.A. does not participate in the Annual Return To Work Monitor survey or report.” “An anomaly with the Victorian data is being investigated.”

 

On the same page, under the heading ‘Background to this publication’, it says this:

“In this series we compare and contrast return to work trends across Australian and New Zealand jurisdictions from 2005-06 to 2008-09.

The RTW Monitor survey has been run each year since the mid 90s, initially in Victoria with other jurisdictions joining the monitor later. The last four years of the Monitor are publicly available via the Heads of Workers Compensation Authorities website and have been used to compare recent jurisdictional trends.

At the outset we need to make clear – one cannot simply compare the results of one jurisdiction to another.”

Under ‘The Return to Work Monitor survey’ we read:

“The Return to Work Monitor is a survey of approximately 2000 injured workers in Australia and New Zealand. The Monitor asks people with work injuries about return to work.

The Monitor interviews employees seven to nine months after they have lodged a claim, where ten days or more compensation has been paid. The survey is completed by phone in November and May each year by Campbell Research & Consulting.

The RTW Monitor is designed to compare return to work outcomes and the processes involved in workers compensation schemes. Injured workers employed by organisations which are self-insured are not included.”

Here is the link to the main page of the site with more info: http://www.rtwmatters.org/

So that website and the relevant information on it are also based on the same report as listed under 1) above, that is by ‘Campbell Research and Consulting’.

As for the quality of the data, and the bold, definitive sounding statements that Dr Bratt makes in his presentations, it shows he is selectively picking statistics to promote his and MSD’s push to bring in firmer work capability assessment criteria and higher work test obligations for sick, injured and impaired. He is quoting and interpreting data out of context and thus misrepresenting the otherwise much more balanced – hardly that worrying – real situation and trends we have. A closer look at the information on RTW Matters reveals, that it does not back many of Dr Bratt’s assertions.

For the spin used see also pages 5 and 6 of the publication ‘RACP news’, Vol. 30, 4 August 2010:

http://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/racp-news/racp-news-august-2010.pdf?sfvrsn=2

 

Only the third mentioned report called “Factors Affecting Return to Work after Injury: A study for the Victorian WorkCover Authority”, from the ‘Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research’ (in 2002) appears to contain some basis for the information that Dr Bratt likes to include in his presentations, as was asked for with O.I.A. question 4. A link to that report can be found here:

Click to access wp2002n28.pdf

That rather outdated report is based on a descriptive analysis of data from a sample of records from close to 50,000 claims lodged for workers’ compensation in Victoria between 01 July 1993 and 30 June 1998 (a third of the total). The database used, which is covering circumstances about claims, actually covers a 15 year period. But already on page 3 under ‘1.3 Results’ and ‘Descriptive analysis’ it says in the report, that “the data are very skewed in a number of important respects, with many claims being of very short duration and low cost, and few observations with very long duration and very high cost”.

Under ‘Multi-variate modelling’ it also says: “In none of the above analysis is the independent effect of other claimant characteristics controlled so conclusions about apparent differences between groups may be misleading”.

But using a multi-variate analysis and making a simple comparison of groups of claimants, the authors claim that their research revealed significant independent effects of certain defined classes of variables (e.g. in incidence, duration and cost between industries, by affliction type, incidence type and agents). Under ‘1.5 Discussion’ (on page 4) the publication explains how workers compensation claims behaviour was observed, particularly in regards to incidence, duration and amounts of claims. Some limitations of the research method were again being noted.

 

Under ‘2. Introduction’ (page 5) the report then also concedes:

“However while the focus of the study is return to work it should be noted that return to work is not observed directly in the data. What is ob served is that claimants no longer receive weekly payments. It is surmised that, for those of workforce age, going off benefit is tantamount to return to work. However there are other possibilities”.

Nevertheless, the report appears to have some scientific value, like it is the case with many research reports of this type having some quality issues, but otherwise at least some useful information to provide. By looking at a table ‘3.2 Summary statistics, WorkCover sample, means and medians’ on page 12, we see information that may raise some questions, but significant variations between mean and median time off work, and other aspects are logically explained. Despite of the marked difference for time off work between females and males, most of the other data is hardly extraordinary. Mean time lost off work and paid by WorkCover is 96 days for females and 64 days for males. Data provided on page 14 a table ‘3.5 Weekly compensation payments by affliction’ is with the shown variations also not that surprising.

The report does for the rest present a large number of graphic and tabled statistical presentations, as well as some formulae for calculating incidence, durations, costs, and so forth of workers’ compensation payments, which do generally appear to tell us what most will already have presumed or known from anecdotal reporting. Nothing appears to be all that much out of the ordinary. Such facts like the severity of a condition or injury being a strong indicator for the likely length of a claim is hardly surprising. As only a small percentage of workers will be affected by serious injury, the fact that they are likely to depend on claims payments for longer periods, and are therefore less likely to return to their former employment, is simply normal and to be expected. And while the costs per capita will be high for instance for some serious injuries, this has to be viewed in the context of the vast majority of the claimants not being that seriously injured and out of work for shorter periods.

Having gone over that partly mathematically complex analysis and report, I have not found any direct mention of the statistical data Dr Bratt has used on page 23 in ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’, so I must presume he and others have extrapolated figures from data sets in this report. This will most likely have been done from the various graphs showing so-called “survivor functions” for certain conditions and other impacting factors or circumstances. The way the information is used in Dr Bratt’s presentations is extremely misleading. The vast majority of people do eventually return to work, and only a small percentage of injured and impaired persons will not return to work for longer periods. What Dr Bratt and MSD have done, is to confuse – or intentionally mix up – cause and effect, ignoring the fact that only a tiny percentage of injured, same as seriously sick and impaired persons, will never return to their previous or even other work. The systems and supports that are in place do already ensure that most people do minimise their time off work, and are encouraged to return to employment.

And only upon the Ombudsman complaint from early March 2014 did MSD provide some further information in response to the O.I.A. request number on 12 November 2014. It did then contain the following comments:

“it is Dr Bratt’s understanding that the Australian/New Zealand statistics quoted relate to the likelihood of a person having been out of work unintentionally for a period of time ever returning to their original job or a similar one.”

That did most certainly qualify the earlier provided information, and put a totally new meaning on the rather blunt, misleading claims made in ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’. Also should we ask the valid question, how relevant are RTW figures for workers suffering injuries due to accidents, as that is just one group of people that may face impairments and disabilities necessitating time off work and workers’ compensation or other social security support. How relevant is this kind of research for persons having congenital health conditions, having permanent physical or mental sickness or impairments, leading to disability? I dare say that the research referred to above may not be all that relevant at all, same as it may not be that relevant for healthy persons who are unemployed. Hence the references provided by MSD, to provide supposed “evidence” for Dr Bratt’s claims, lack credibility.

 

Requests/questions 1 and 3

 

The information that MSD provided in reply to O.I.A. requests 1 and 3 did at first consist only of a copy of a survey form with response data on it, which was gathered from general practitioners attending some conferences. Initially it was in the letter from 27 February 2014 simply referred to as: “Please find enclosed a copy of the Work and Income Medical Certificate Survey – 2010 and the results of that survey which featured in Dr Bratt’s presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’”.

You can find the authentic copy of that form at the end of the first O.I.A. response by MSD from 27 Feb. 2014, which is contained in the attached PDF file, also found via this link:

MSD, O.I.A. rqst, re Dr Bratt, presentations, contacts, anon., 16.01., reply by CE, 27.02.14

 

For those not aware of what the information on page 32 of Dr Bratt’s presentation ‘Ready, Steady, Crook’ is, here are the claims he makes there about findings from a ‘GP Survey’:

Sources of pressure felt by GPs

71% felt this was the mechanism to provide income to the patient

55% – felt W+I staff created an expectation

40% – because they believed there was no work available

31% – felt W+I weren’t doing anything for the patient

30% – had experienced a sense of threat and intimidation

Again, MSD provided that form, without offering any explanations for the contents of that form, and without properly answering questions in O.I.A. requests 1 and 3. Only upon the complaint to the Office of the Ombudsmen (dated 09 March 2014) did MSD deliver the following additional explanations in their further response from 12 Nov. 2014:

MSD, O.I.A. rqst, re Dr Bratt, presentations, contacts, anon., 16.01., further reply, 12.11.14

 

Re question one: “Whether the information obtained from GPs related to a specified time period? “

Comments by MSD: The survey was carried out in 2010 at several large National General Practitioner Organisations’ annual conferences. No time period was specified for responses to apply to. The date, 2010, is on the subject heading of the survey sheet – as already provided”

Re question three: “No response to part c) of the question”

Comments by MSD: “the purpose of the survey question was to gauge the extent to which GPs are aware of additional “external” pressures on them when completing Medical Certificates. No in-depth analysis was possible on the basis of a simple self-reported survey sheet. The responding GPs were not asked the questions – they were just handed the survey sheets to complete and return to Dr Bratt if and when they chose to do so

So while Dr Bratt quotes his so-called “GP survey” results like some convincing “evidence” in his presentations, such as Ready, Steady, Crook (see pages 31 to 33) or Medical Certificates are Clinical Instruments Too (see page 29), this is far from the truth. That very “survey” he conducted, lacked any proper statistical methodology and validity, as it was not conducted in an appropriate scientific manner. It was merely a random “survey” based on questionnaires he handed out, and which he only partly got back. From the returned questionnaires, which were also not all fully completed, he extracted the figures that he considered of use, to promote his agenda of trying to convince medical and other health professionals, same as other target groups, to adopt the approaches he favours for getting sick, injured and disabled into “suitable” forms of work. It was apparently an attempt to generate an impression, that GPs face some unreasonable “pressures” or expectations from patients, seeking medical certificates to claim benefits.

 

Further to request/question 2

 

As for O.I.A. request 2, MSD have shied away from offering any proper response to the questions asked in it. NO confirmations was given, and no medical scientific evidence was delivered to prove that “the benefit” is “addictive” like a “drug”, or that any of the other bizarre claims made in Dr Bratt’s presentations have any validity. Let us remember that Dr Bratt has repeatedly claimed that “Long term unemployment has been shown as bad as smoking 10 packets of cigarettes daily”. He has also asserted: “As a drug, it would be an addictive, debilitating substance, he told the RNZCGP education convention” (see question 2 in the O.I.A. request from 16 Jan. 2014). Up to this day, MSD have given no proper response to that request. Not even the complaint to the Ombudsman resulted in any further information, even though it was pointed out, that neither the position paper by the ‘Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’ (AFOEM), called “Realising the Health Benefits of Work”, nor the UK paper titled “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”, by Dame Carol Black, does deliver evidence to support Dr Bratt’s bold quotes or comments.

The Ombudsman did not bother to press MSD for a clear answer, but concluded in his provisional decision, that from their earlier comments, it must be presumed that MSD agree with Dr Bratt. In a “provisional opinion” on the O.I.A. requester’s complaint, Ron Paterson wrote on 22 May 2015:

In response, the Ministry has provided the following additional information:

Question 2In relation whether MSD agrees with Dr Bratt, the answer is yes, and the links, including the five references, were provided. While MSD did not specifically state that it agreed with Dr Bratt, it can be implied from providing the references.” “The Ministry does not hold this information and has no further comment to make.

This is an astonishing comment. Indeed, the Ministry appears to have been forced to concede that it “agrees” with Dr Bratt’s comments and position, being his employer, it would possibly have to dismiss him, should it disagree with him now, having allowed him to make bizarre, misleading claims in his presentations. But of course MSD will not comment on this publicly.

 

Request/question 5

 

O.I.A. request 5 referred to a ‘NZ Doctor’ publication from 01 August 2012 (article by Lucy Ratcliffe), where Dr Bratt was quoted as saying: “A UK study found of the main obstacles for going to work, medical problems made up just 3 % of the list”. So the source of the supposed evidence was asked for, but again, NO proper response was provided by MSD. All that MSD provided in their response from 27 Feb. 2014 was the following: “With regards to Dr Bratt’s statement quoted by Lucy Ratcliffe – the figures were taken from a presentation by Sir Mansel Aylward to a representative group of medical professionals from various medical colleges in 2012. The study was independently undertaken by Cardiff University where recipients of a disability-related benefit were interviewed to help identify the key factors that prevented their return to the workforce.

So again, we are merely talking about a kind of “survey”, or number of “interviews”, to gather data.

After the dissatisfaction with MSD’s unclear response, mentioning no source by name, date and author, the requester followed up the initial complaint to the Ombudsman, the following information from MSD was provided by Ron Paterson in his “provisional opinion”:

“Question 5 – Mr ……….. has previously been provided with Dr Bratt’s research sources. The Ministry holds no additional information about the Cardiff University study.”

Again the requester and readers here are left without any proper response, as the particular study is not named by title, by author or date. The only reference being made to a “study”, which though appears to be nothing else but a form of series of interviews of persons affected with disabilities, does not give us the opportunity to properly examine and assess it. NO information about the quality and scientific solidity of the research or results is presented; hence I would not give much credit at all to the claims made by Dr Bratt, supposedly supported by the mentioned, unknown “Cardiff University study”.

 

Requests/questions 6, 7 and 8

 

There was NO real information at all provided by MSD in response to O.I.A. requests 6, 7 and 8, neither in the letter from Deputy Chief Executive Debbie Power dated 27 February 2014, nor in the additional response by email (from an unnamed MSD staff member) dated 12 Nov. 2014. Hence the requester made an attempt to ask the Ombudsman by way of a further letter from early December 2014, to seek from MSD at least some samples of the information in response to requests 6, 7 and 8, as not ALL such information was expected.

Under request 6 the request was for information that Dr Bratt may have on harms that exist at workplaces, about certain harms caused by work, about certain types of work causing ill health or injury, and about insufficiently equipped and organised work places, or particular work practices, work duration, or any other aspects relating to work or employment, that may be causing harms to health and safety of workers. Under request 7 the request was for information Dr Bratt may have about the negative and harmful health effects from relative or general poverty, instead of simple “worklessness”, that people on benefits or in low paid work may face. And lastly under request 8, the request was for information on whether the quality of health of a beneficiary, who suffers from sickness, illness, physical or mental impairment and disability, may rather much more depend on individual circumstances, and that some simple forms of physical activity or mental activity, other than work in the form of “open employment”, may rather be beneficial for people.

Regrettably the Ombudsman was not able or willing to obtain further information from MSD on these matters, and in his “provisional opinion” from 22 May 2015 he quoted MSD with this:

“Questions 6, 7, 8 and 9 – In relation to question 6, Mr …………… also has copies of other Dr Bratt presentations, and they are publicly available. Mr ……………. was also given the overarching links to papers and the substance of the statistics which informed Dr Bratt’s papers. Most of the rest falls under section 18 (f).” “The information in relation to Questions 7 and 8 is not held.” “In response to the request for other examples of the references requested in Questions 6 to 9, and whether Dr Bratt can estimate the percentage of research from the Centre, the Ministry stated that the information is not readily accessible.”

This response by MSD, passed on through the Ombudsman, is nothing much as a typical O.I.A. “cop out”, as it suggests that Dr Bratt and MSD simply cannot bother making any effort to present at least some samples of the information sought, that is at least to provide information on requests 6 and also 9. But it has at least become clear, that Dr Bratt, and with that also MSD, do NOT hold any of the information requested under points 7 and 8. That proves, that his focus is ONLY on stressing any perceived and hypothetical harm that may be caused through “worklessness”. We know the reasons and motivations behind this. Dr Bratt appears to take no real interest in the harm that may be caused to health through poverty. He does also seem to have little interest in the possibility, that some health benefits may rather be achieved for individual’s suffering illness, sickness, physical and mental impairments causing disability, by engaging them in other activities than paid open employment. Dr Bratt seems to rather only focus on supposed “health benefits” that he believes come with paid work, than through an individual’s other physical or mental activities, that may be limited, and that may well prohibit demanding, stressful and strictly regulated paid employment on the competitive job market.

That proves again, that the drive to get people off benefits and into work is primarily motivated by achieving cost savings for MSD and Work and Income, and by getting beneficiary numbers down. There is no alternative offered to paid work, it seems, while many if not most impaired and disabled persons may rather be better placed in special, subsidised employment, or other health promoting activities, that could enhance their lives and offer them a lifestyle and security that better suits them.

 

Further to request/question 9

 

Re request 9 the Ombudsman has already commented above, what MSD’s position is re the information sought under it. A further request letter to the Ombudsman from early December 2014, emphasized that it would suffice if MSD provides a list of the research resources Dr Bratt used for his presentations. By mentioning the author of such, it would be sufficient to establish, from whom he sourced such information, the requester wrote. The requester also expressed the following concerns:

“As for my request under point 9 MSD have only provided a short list of 3 sources for sources and reports that provide or back up information Dr Bratt used in the mentioned two presentations. These reports at the bottom of their response from 27 February are all about “return to work” statistics, and how they are being interpreted, and about nothing else. They do not deliver medical scientific proof that I asked for, for instance for Dr Bratt’s claims about the alleged harmful effects of benefit dependence, and the benefit being like “an addictive debilitating drug with significant adverse effects to both the patient and their family (whanau) – not dissimilar to smoking”. He also claims “Long term unemployment has been shown as bad as smoking 10 packets of cigarettes daily”. Dr Bratt told a NZ Royal College of General Practitioners education convention that the benefit is, “as a drug, it would be an addictive, debilitating substance…”. (see also my request 2).”

“I have information that Dr Bratt has been relying a lot on information delivered by the so-called ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ run for years by Professor Mansel Aylward, with whom he has also had regular personal and professional contacts. It is clear that Dr Bratt has used resources that were prepared and written by Mansel Aylward, also Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton, all being directly or indirectly linked to the said “research centre”, as part of Cardiff University, and to other research that follows similar theories about “worklessness” and causes for poor health and for disability. Mansel Aylward has basically presented studies based on comparing statistical data, and he drew his conclusions from the information, which does though deliver anything but conclusive evidence about the causal effects of unemployment on health, resulting in sickness and disability, of which many people dependent on health related benefits may suffer. While there may be some form of correlation or association between unemployment and poor health, this does not mean that one circumstance or condition is the cause of the other. It is significant to note that the same centre where Mansel Aylward has for many years served as a director used to be sponsored by a controversial insurance corporation called UNUM, who also cooperated with him as an “advisor” on welfare reforms in the UK, when Aylward was Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the UK. Such “sponsoring” by a vested interest party, that then also launched new health and disability insurance products on the UK market, while welfare reforms tightened entitlement criteria for many sick and disabled there, should be of major concern. The fact that Mr Aylward went onto the payroll of the same company raises many questions, also about his “research”, and the quality of it.”

The above stated concerns may have alerted MSD and Dr Bratt, to not enter any correspondence on this sensitive area, as some of the issues raised have also led to intensive debate about the controversial ‘Center for Psychosocial and Disability Research’, which has recently been renamed yet again, after it had already the former sponsor’s name ‘Unum Provident’ taken out of it. MSD seem very reluctant to discuss any concerns, or to provide any information that Dr Bratt appears to have relied on, and I will leave it up to the reader to make her or his own conclusions about the reasons behind all this. Any informed and intelligent enough person can draw their own logical conclusions.

 

Request/question 10

 

As for request 10 there was initially only a briefly summarised, rather disappointing response given by MSD in the first letter from 27 Feb. 2014. Instead of providing any of the more detailed sought information, a brief overview of contacts Dr Bratt had (or did not have) with the named “experts” was given by MSD, being Prof. Aylward, Dr Waddell and Dr Beaumont. Rather than providing detailed information on the times, dates, types of and purposes of contacts, meetings and communications (including correspondence) that Dr Bratt had with these professionals, the following general explanation was given:

“In June 2013 Sir Mansel Aylward returned to New Zealand to present his report into the study. During his visit to the Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Dr Bratt met with him to discuss the extensive work he has been involved with about the adverse health effects of worklessness. At the invitation of the New Zealand Medical Association Sir Mansel Aylward was a keynote speaker at the General Practitioner Conference and Medical Exhibition in Rotorua in June 2013 where he addressed over 900General Practitioners. Prior and subsequent to this visit, Dr Bratt had numerous email and phone conversations with Sir Mansel Aylward to confirm the travel arrangements and conference details.

Dr David Beaumont is an occupational medicine physician who is the President-Elect of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. He was co-chair of the group that collated the Position Paper on “Realising the Health Benefits of Work”. Dr Beaumont does not and has never worked at the Ministry. He was part of the external advisory committee representing the various health and disability organisations that the Ministry co-ordinated regarding the Welfare Reform programme. Dr Bratt’s contact with Dr Beaumont was limited to facilitating meetings with Sir Mansel Aylward.

Dr Bratt has not met with or had any correspondence with Professor Gordon Waddell.”

Upon a complaint to the Ombudsman, the following further information was provided by MSD, sent by an unnamed staff member by email on 12 November 2014:

Dr Bratt does not keep a record of the times, dates, and types of contacts he has had with the listed professionals or anyone else. Dr Bratt’s emails from that period have been deleted. Many contacts were personal to Dr Bratt. Dr Bratt has never had any contact with Professor Waddell”

As both received responses were considered very unsatisfactory by the O.I.A. information requester, the requester sent yet another letter to the Ombudsman on 03 December 2014 expressing concerns about the lack of available information, the deletion of emails, and contradiction in MSD’s statements.

The requester explained the involvement of Mansel Aylward and Dr Beaumont in consultations for the formation of major welfare reforms in 2012/13, and how they advised a MSD appointed ‘Health and Disability Panel’ on health and work capability assessment matters. He stated that Mr Aylward was repeatedly mentioned by the then Minister Paula Bennett as an advisor they used during the reform process. It would be beyond belief that no records were kept by Dr Bratt on his contacts with both professionals, the requester wrote. Also did the complainant express concerns about Dr Bratt mixing private with official contacts and activities. Mention was made of Dr Bratt’s visit to the UK in early 2014, where he again met and consulted with Prof. Aylward, in his capacity as Principal Health Advisor. This showed there had been a close professional cooperation between the two, the requester asserted. The requester also referred to information used in Dr Bratt’s presentations and his repeated comments to media, which indicated he had contact with Mr Aylward for at least two years, and used information from the ‘Centre’ headed by Prof. Aylward in Cardiff. It was evident that Dr Bratt was acting in his professional capacity and would have had to keep certain records of his contacts and correspondence with Drs Aylward and Beaumont, the requester wrote. Dr Beaumont’s former employment at ATOS in the UK was mentioned, same as how controversial work capability assessments in the UK were conducted by that firm. Dr Aylward’s involvement as former Chief Medical Officer of the DWP in the UK was mentioned, and evidence was presented to the Ombudsman on contacts and cooperation between Drs Bratt and Aylward.

 

The O.I.A. information requester furthermore wrote to the Ombudsman:

“I suggest you insist on MSD providing the information that has so far not been delivered, that has been withheld under section 18 (f) under the Official Information Act, and that has otherwise been delivered short of what my initial request sought. It is in my view a somewhat questionable justification, and indeed very worrying, that MSD simply states Dr Bratt deleted all records of his contacts and emails.

 

Regrettably the Ombudsman did not appear to make much in the way of further efforts to obtain further information from MSD, but at least sought some further comments in relation to request 10. In his “provisional opinion” letter from 22 May 2015 Ron Paterson had this to write:

Your complaint

You complained to this Office about the Ministry’s decision on the request. In particular, you raised concerns about the refusal of much of the information sought under section 18(f), stating that the response you received was unsatisfactory because it did not completely answer your questions, including questions 1, 3, 4 and 10.

You also commented that it is reasonable to expect the Ministry, as an “organised government agency”, to locate and release the specified information without too much time and effort being required, and it is in the public interest that the Ministry does so.

Comments by the Ministry

In its report to me, the Ministry advised that your request asked a number of broad questions concerning information that was not centrally held. The Ministry stated that attempting to collate the information from over 100 sources would be a time consuming exercise. However, the Ministry informed me that you have been provided with links and references to the research sources requested. The Ministry confirmed that the information sources are highly respected academics whose papers are publically available.

In order for the Ministry to centrally collate the papers and documents as well as the sources already provided into a single document, it would require a significant amount of time from Dr Bratt – approximately two weeks. The Ministry advised that diverting Dr Bratt away from his role as Principal Health Advisor for this length of time would have a serious and prejudicial impact on the Ministry’s ability to carry out its functions.

However, the Ministry agreed that additional information could be provided to you about questions 1, 3, 4 and 10, and it did so on 12 November 2014. On 03 December 2014 you confirmed that you remained dissatisfied and considered that the Ministry had still not provided an appropriate reply. Y ou detailed the particular information that you still wished to obtain. A copy of this was provided to the Ministry and it was asked to provide further comments. In response, the Ministry has provided the following additional information:”

(Note: See further above, the already quoted further information provided to questions 1, 3 and 4!)

 

The Ombudsman Ron Paterson did in his “provisional opinion” add the further comments he received from MSD as response by them to request 10:

Question 10Dr Bratt only deleted emails which were personal in nature and did not relate to official engagements in his capacity as Principal Health Advisor.

“In relation to question 10, the Ministry provided me with a copy of its guidance relating to the retention of records, including emails, which is issued to staff and is available on the Ministry’s intranet. I have asked the Ministry to send you a copy of the guidance also.”

Ron Paterson did not have anything else to comment on the O.I.A. requester’s concerns about Dr Bratt’s deletion of emails (as stated by MSD), or about any legal issues that may have arisen in relation to O.I.A. request 10. For the remainder of his “provisional opinion” he wrote about the provisions in the O.I.A. allowing MSD to withhold or not provide information sought. In his response in his letter with his “provisional opinion” from 22 May 2015 Professor Paterson wrote further down in his letter to the requester:

“I am satisfied that the remaining information that is withheld by the Ministry in relation to your request is not centrally located. There seems little doubt that responding in full to your request would involve substantial collation and research, particularly by Dr Bratt. In addition, the estimated time of two weeks that Dr Bratt would be diverted from his role to do this work would undoubtedly negatively affect the Ministry’s day-to-day operations.

 

In the end of the letter Ron Paterson summarises under ‘My provisional opinion’:

“In my provisional opinion, for the reasons set out above, the Ministry was entitled to refuse part of your request for information relating to Dr Bratt’s presentations under sections 18(f) and 18(g) of the OIA.”

Being understandably very disappointed by the provisional opinion of the Ombudsman, the requester made a final attempt to request Professor Paterson to further investigate the matters raised, and to seek further clarifications from MSD. This was done by way of a letter dated 13 June 2015. Regrettably the Ombudsman did push aside numerous points of serious concern, and dismissed sufficient clear, also documented evidence that justified a formal investigation, and he did with his final decision more or less confirm his “provisional opinion”, which was stated in a rather short letter from 23 June 2015. He even used references to a letter from the Chief Archivist, who had also been consulted on Dr Bratt’s failings, to justify taking no action. But the Chief Archivist had herself ignored relevant evidence, and simply trusted comments by MSD, made in the first O.I.A. response from 27 Feb. 2014, even though comments by Debbie Power were later contradicted in two further responses from MSD.

Ron Paterson wrote in his final decision on 23 June 2015:

“I have now had an opportunity to consider your comments on my provisional opinion. However, having considered all the issues raised, I remain of the view that the Ministry was entitled to refuse part of your request, on the basis that some of the information is not held, and the remaining information would involve substantial collation and research.

I note that Archives New Zealand has looked into your concerns about the issue of Dr Bratt’s record keeping and is unable to provide any further assistance. In any event, my investigation is limited to the information actually held by the Ministry at the time of your request. Without access to the information in question, it is not possible to assess the content of those communications.

Overall, it seems that your concerns stem from your disagreement with Dr Bratt’s and the Ministry’s policies in relation to sickness beneficiaries, and the basis for that policy. It is open to you to raise your concerns about those policies with the Chief Executive of the Ministry, and/or your local Member of Parliament. The Ombudsmen have no authority to investigate matters of government policy. I have now concluded my investigation.”

 

The above summary of the correspondence covering concerns and outcomes relating to O.I.A. request or question 10 shows us, that MSD have not only been totally reluctant to provide detailed information about the contacts and correspondence Dr Bratt had with both Prof. Mansel Aylward and Dr David Beaumont (now President of the AFOEM), but that MSD have even done everything possible to cover Dr Bratt from being held to account for not keeping public records, which he should strictly have been required to keep under the Public Records Act 2005. Also has the Ombudsman, Professor Ron Paterson, been very reluctant to further investigate this matter.

 

Please find here the letters to and from the Ombudsman in PDF file format:

Ombudsman, complaint, O.I.A. to MSD, public interest, re Dr Bratt, anon., xx.03.2014

Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, O.I.A. rqst. 16.01.14, Dr Bratt, presentation info, ltr, xx.12.14

Ombudsman, complaint, O.I.A. to MSD, Dr Bratt, publ. int., prov. dec., compl., hilit, 22.05.15

Ombudsman, complaint, 3xxxxx, MSD, O.I.A. fr. 16.01.14, Bratt, presentations, anon, ltr, 13.06.15

Ombudsman, complaint, MSD, O.I.A. rqst. 16.01.14, Dr Bratt, presentation info, hilit dec., 23.06.15

 

 

F) A NEW ISSUE WITH DR DAVID BRATT’S DELETION OF ALL EMAIL CORRESPONDENCE

 

As a result of the O.I.A. request 10 made as part of the wider O.I.A. request to MSD from 16 Jan. 2014, there have been three different comments or statements by MSD in relation to Dr Bratt’s contacts with two of three initially mentioned senior professionals, being Professor Mansel Aylward from the former ‘Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research’ in Cardiff, Wales, and Dr David Beaumont, now President of the AFOEM, who has in the past also run his own rehabilitation business called “Pathways to Work”, based in Otago. Of particular significance are the various responses by MSD relating to the contacts and correspondence between Dr Bratt and Prof. Aylward.

In the first response from 27 February 2014 Debbie Power did in her letter state the following:

“At the invitation of the New Zealand Medical Association Sir Mansel Aylward was a keynote speaker at the General Practitioner Conference and Medical Exhibition in Rotorua in June 2013 where he addressed over 900 medical practitioners. Prior and subsequent to this visit, Dr Bratt had numerous email and phone conversations with Sir Mansel Aylward to confirm the travel arrangements and conference details.

 

The O.I.A. requester then wrote to the Ombudsman on 09 March 2014:

Re question 10. MSD have only provided a general summary of ‘Dr Bratt and Other Practitioners’, and not disclosed the exact times, dates and types of contacts Dr Bratt had with the listed professionals – like Professor Aylward and Dr Beaumont. I accept that he never had contact with Professor Waddell. While I do not expect every single email or phone call being listed, it must be reasonably expected from MSD to provide the information I sought, by listing times or at least dates, and a frequency of phone calls or emails sent on certain days. I would certainly expect dates for face to face conversations and meetings to be provided, for the whole period of Dr Bratt’s employment as Principal Health Advisor for MSD and Work and Income.

The requester asked the Ombudsman that the following action be taken:

“Given the unsatisfactory responses received, I ask you at the Office of the Ombudsmen to examine and assess the O.I.A. request and questions I sent (on 16 Jan. 2014), and to do the same with the responses I received from Debbie Power at MSD (on 27 Feb. 2014), and to then take the necessary action by approaching the Ministry of Social Development, in order to instruct them to provide the information that I should reasonably be able to expect and receive in this matter.”

“In view of the fact that we are talking about rather serious matters, where a Principal Health Advisor for MSD is making in part controversial and disputed comments and claims in presentations that he gives to professional medical organisations and other groups, I trust that you will give my request in this matter serious considerations.”

On 12 November 2014 the requester received some further information and explanations from MSD by way of an email, which showed no name or other identification of the author underneath it:

..question 10: Dr Bratt does not keep a record of the times, dates and types of contacts he has had with the listed professionals or anyone else. Dr Bratt’s emails from that period have been deleted. Many contacts were personal to Dr Bratt. Dr Bratt has never had any contact with Professor Waddell.

The response was “signed” only with: “Ombudsman and Privacy Complaint Services Ministry of Social Development”, and provided only limited additional information to other requests that had been made.

In a new letter from 03 Dec. 2014 to the Ombudsman’s Office the O.I.A. requester expressed his concerns about the further response received from MSD, and under Para [5] wrote:

“[5] The additional information offered in response to my original question 10 does though not help me in any way at all. I do actually find the comments made by MSD somewhat bizarre and astonishing, to say the least, and they are in my view unacceptable. To simply state that “Dr Bratt does not keep a record of the times, dates, and types of contacts he has had with the listed professionals or anyone else”, does not sound credible to me. I am surprised to read MSD’s comment “Dr Bratt’s emails from that period have been deleted. Many contacts were personal to Dr Bratt.” “

Under Para [17] the requester also wrote:

“I do not accept the answer that MSD give in both responses about Dr Bratt’s contacts with professionals like Professor Mansel Aylward and Dr David Beaumont, who were senior official advisors that were substantially involved in the consultation and formation process for the last major, controversial welfare reforms in 2012/13. MSD and then Minister Paula Bennett sought their advice on how persons on health related benefits should be treated and “assisted” when assessing them and trying to place them into work. It is beyond belief, that NO records were kept in a professional form and manner by Dr Bratt as a senior official in a senior advisory role for the Ministry of Social Development. He will certainly have kept comprehensive information on his contacts and in relation to organising the visits and meetings involving those two well known professionals. It is furthermore beyond belief, that Dr David Bratt was allowed to mix his private and official correspondence while performing his responsibilities as Principal Health Advisor for MSD. I do not believe that Dr Bratt was entitled to simply delete ALL his email correspondence and contacts that covered activities with the mentioned professionals.”

Some further concerns were expressed, which have partly already been mentioned further above in earlier sections in this post. Then in his “provisional opinion” Ombudsman Paterson wrote on 22 May 2015, that MSD had provided some additional information to ‘Question 10’. He quoted MSD with:

“Question 10 – Dr Bratt only deleted emails which were personal in nature and did not relate to official engagements in his capacity as Principal Health Advisor.”

“In relation to question 10, the Ministry provided me with a copy of its guidance relating to the retention of records, including emails, which is issued to staff and is available on the Ministry’s intranet. I have asked the Ministry to send you a copy of this guidance also.

Given the inconsistencies in the responses given by MSD, the requester did raise further concerns in a letter to the Ombudsman on 13 June 2015:

“In view of those three comments I must ask, what is the truth then? All comments are somewhat contradictory, and somehow in conflict with each other, and this does leave me in a situation, where I get the impression that the Ministry is unsure of the truth. Dr Bratt was clearly corresponding with Professor Mansel Aylward in his professional capacity as Principal Health Advisor, not just on “personal” or “private” terms, as he was arranging and checking travel and booking arrangements for Mr Aylward to attend meetings with him and at conferences here in New Zealand. Mr Aylward can therefore not have been a “personal” contact. It is also bizarre, that in the further response from 12 November a claim is suddenly made, that Dr Bratt keeps no records of times, dates, types and contacts he has had with said professional(s), or anyone else. It remains to be my view that as Principal Health Advisor for MSD Dr Bratt was and is required to keep certain records about his correspondence and contacts, and I assert that these were not limited to arrange travel and conference attendance. Professor Aylward was also quoted as advisor on welfare reform, and his input had been sought for formulating new welfare policy as part of substantial reforms, which started to be implemented from mid July 2013. And re the comments by Ms Power in the letter from 27 February 2014, fair questions must be asked, what were the subsequent email and phone contacts about, when Dr Bratt was meant to correspond only about confirming travel arrangements and conference details? Once those events had taken place, one would have thought there was no further correspondence needed for that purpose. I presented you evidence of Dr Bratt and Dr Mansel Aylward making joint presentations and participating in media interviews together, and Dr Bratt did so as Principal Health Advisor for MSD. This can hardly be described as contacts only of a “personal” or “private” nature! Even MSD’s response from 12 November 2014 concedes that “many” contacts were “personal”, but that also means not all. The information in your letter from 22 Mai implies there were some emails kept. So not all emails from the referred to period can have been deleted after all.”

The requester went further in Paras [15] and [16] of his letter and explained other efforts he had made, and issues that remained:

“[15] I can inform you that the same issue was raised with the Chief Archivist Marilyn Little, and I will attach correspondence in that matter to this letter, which I will also send to you by email. One of her response letters was dated xx March 2015, and on that same day she wrote to Mr Brendan Boyle, also providing the Ministry with the applicable General Disposal Authorities (GDA) for records management and maintenance in the public service. I presume I have not received the guidance you mention in your letter from MSD, as they seem to assume, that I have them already. A second letter from Marilyn Little is dated xx April this year, and regrettably sees no reason to further investigate the contradictions I observed in comments received from MSD in this matter. I strongly suggest your Office of Ombudsmen looks into this, as there are so many conflicting claims and comments on record now, none of them appear to reveal the whole truth about what records Dr Bratt kept of his communications and correspondence with Professor Mansel Aylward and with Dr David Beaumont. I strongly suggest you consult with the Chief Archivist at Archives New Zealand about what action to take, to establish what has really gone on at Dr Bratt’s Office. I remind you of information I sent you by way of reference material and attachments with my letter from 03 December 2014, showing how much Mansel Aylward was involved in consulting with MSD and the government on welfare reforms. He did not just visit New Zealand to play golf with Dr Bratt, or to “entertain” himself and others by holding a couple of brief speeches at GP conferences, followed by mostly private contacts of whatever types of lesser relevance. Paula Bennett heavily relied on him and his advice to the Health and Disability Panel set up to consult on welfare reform matters in her ‘Speech to Medical Professionals’ on 26 September 2012. Therefore Mansel Aylward was involved in assisting policy formation by the government!”

“[16] In my original O.I.A. request from 16 January 2014 I did not ask for mere scheduling or diary type details about Dr Bratt’s contacts with Professor Mansel Aylward and other named professionals. I asked for “information on the times, dates, types of and purposes of contacts, meetings and communications (including correspondence)”. Nowhere did I talk about ordinary scheduling details for bookings for travel and the likes. I expected information about when Dr Bratt had meetings with Mansel Aylward and Dr Beaumont, and about when and how they corresponded about particular matters (purposes) involving their professional roles and activities. The fact that Dr Bratt and Mansel Aylward prepared and gave joint presentations to GP conferences and the likes, that they jointly faced up to a ‘NZ Doctor’ journalist to answer questions about their work, and that they professionally worked together in other ways, and early last year also met in their professional capacities in the UK and Europe, that proves that contacts and correspondence were not just “personal” and “private”, and that the details I asked for should have been presented in relation to such activities. Details about these activities will have been recorded, and should hence be available. Again, I fear that MSD is taking advantage of provisions in the O.I.A. to avoid more transparency in these matters.” “

At the end of Para [18] he then wrote:

Most certainly I seek the information I asked for under ‘Question 10’, as I explained above, the Ministry has provided 3 different, somewhat contradictory comments to it, and has refused to deliver any significant information, at one time claiming all emails and contacts were deleted by Dr Bratt. I request your Office takes actions in this matter, to conduct an investigation into the conflicting explanations that have been provided by the Ministry, as some records should have been kept on Dr Bratt’s professional meetings and correspondence with Professor Aylward, perhaps lesser so with Dr David Beaumont. Professor Dr Aylward acted as advisor on welfare reform policy to MSD. As you mention yourself in your letter from 22 May, not all emails appear to have been deleted after all, as he only deleted those that were “personal in nature”.

As we read under Chapter E) above (towards the end), the Ombudsman strangely saw no need to further investigate the matter of Dr Bratt deleting emails for a whole period, even though serious concerns and evidence were presented to him. This does though remain to be a matter of huge concern as it may involve serious breaches of the Public Records Act, because so-called ‘General Disposal Authorities’ issued by the Chief Archivist appear to have been breached. We are informed the matter has again been raised again with the Office of Ombudsmen, now with the Chief Ombudsman, and a final decision on a new complaint will need to be awaited and analysed in due time.

 
 

G) FINAL CONCLUSIONS

 

Having read all the correspondence in question, from the requester, from MSD, and from the Office of Ombudsmen, the whole matter is in our view a blatant cover up of the truth behind the present government’s and the Ministry of Social Development’s agenda for welfare reforms, including work capability assessments of sick, injured and disabled on benefits, which is of course administered, implemented and enforced by MSD’s department Work and Income NZ. Dr Bratt has as a senior advisor been involved in various activities, in consultations and has conducted correspondence with other senior external advisors, details of which MSD is determined to withhold from the public. The deletion of emails, which clearly mostly included such correspondence on a range of administrative and health advisory matters, by Dr Bratt as Principal Health Advisor, is in our view an illegal act, in breach of the Public Records Act 2005. We understand it has now been followed up in the form of a formal complaint to the Chief Ombudsman under the Ombudsmen Act 1975.

We can see from this how MSD do all that is within their powers, to frustrate the release of official information they consider as highly sensitive, and even when information is made available, it is only done so in very summarised, abbreviated form, and often basically “drip fed”, after a requester involves the Office of the Ombudsmen. Given the high work load and lack of resources the Ombudsmen have, MSD can rely on any complaints taking a long time to be processed, so by the time any further details may need to be addressed, the complaint matter may be deemed less relevant, given the time that has lapsed since it was raised.

The Ombudsman has in our view in this case also not acted in accordance with his responsibilities under the Ombudsmen Act, as he should have felt compelled to further investigate matters, particularly in regards to Dr Bratt’s deletion of “all emails” for a certain period. The information and evidence that was presented to both the Chief Archivist and the Ombudsman should actually have warranted more action, but there is an evident lack of motivation by both Offices, to take on new complaints, as they have already too many issues to work with. As a separate complaint has some time ago been filed with the Chief Ombudsman by the requester, we will await the outcome of that with great interest, although this is likely to take at least a year or two, to be resolved.

 
 

Quest for Justice

 

 

09 August 2015

 
 

Please find here a link to a downloadable PDF copy of the recently updated post based on the original post:
msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-publ-post-19-09-16

 

 

Other posts of relevance to study:

 

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-controversial-bio-psycho-social-model/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-health-and-disability-panel-and-its-hand-picked-members/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/designated-doctors-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc-the-truth-about-them/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-a/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-b/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-c/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-d/
(more parts available after a to d)

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/the-discredited-indefensible-work-capability-assessment-wca-in-the-uk-and-what-its-demise-must-mean-for-nz-welfare-reforms-part-1/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/the-discredited-indefensible-work-capability-assessment-wca-in-the-uk-and-what-its-demise-must-mean-for-nz-welfare-reforms-part-2/

 
 

ADDENDUM 1: UPDATE ON THE ABOVE MENTIONED NEW OMBUDSMAN ACT COMPLAINT ABOUT DR DAVID BRATT DELETING “ALL” EMAILS, WHICH APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN IN BREACH OF THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT AND RELEVANT AUTHORITIES (25 AUGUST 2015):

 

On 21 August 2015 the complainant and former O.I.A. requester received a response from Ombudsman Prof. Ron Paterson, dated 17 August 2015. In his letter the Ombudsman referred to that new complaint under the Ombudsmen Act 1975 from 07 August, and stated he would not start any new investigation of a complaint presented by the requester at the time, giving limited resources and other still active complaints in progress as reasons! He insisted the requester should instead raise the matter with MSD and their Chief Executive, who have though already and repeatedly made clear they would not comment any further on the matter.

So the Ombudsman himself is refusing to investigate a matter where the Principal Health Advisor Dr Bratt deleted ALL emails for a period, which he exchanged with a senior external Advisor, being Prof. Mansel Aylward from the UK, in his capacity as Advisor for MSD! It appears Ron Paterson, a former Health and Disability Commissioner in New Zealand, sees NO need to get answers on an apparent breach of public record keeping, for which MSD gave three conflicting explanations, like Dr Bratt only deleted “private” emails, or did delete them, while he was not acting as Principal Health Advisor.

The complaint presented all relevant details and evidence, and asked for clarifications, as the conduct was considered being illegal and unacceptable. With the Ombudsman refusing to act and to fulfill his function and responsibilities under the Ombudsmen Act, we have an indeed scandalous state of affairs, we reckon!

The whole matter deserves a separate post, but given time restrictions, I will attach a copy of that letter here for people to read and draw their own conclusions from:

Ombudsman, Complaint abt Dr Bratt deleting emails, refusal to investigate, R. Paterson, 17.08.15

Here is a high-lit version:

Ombudsman, Complaint, Dr Bratt deleted emails, refusal to investigate, R. Paterson, hilit, 17.08.15

Final Note: The matter will be followed up, and there will be more t come!!!

 
 

ADDENDUM 2: “THE ‘INVESTMENT APPROACH’ IS NOT AN INVESTMENT APPROACH”, ARGUES BILL ROSENBERG AS ECONOMIST FOR THE COUNCIL OF TRADE UNIONS (CTU), IN A PAPER PUBLISHED 16 SEPT. 2015 (05 OCTOBER 2015):

 

Not only is there a lack of medical scientific evidence to justify and support the draconian new approaches that MSD and their main department WINZ now use to pressure people on benefits to return to employment a.s.a.p., the much hailed new “investment approach” the government uses in social security to ram through “reforms” is just as flawed. This has been noticed by Bill Rosenberg who published a paper for the CTU, which I understand ‘Scoop’ have also already reported on. He is the CTU’s Policy Director and Economist (often also consulted by leading media), and he has published a must read paper, which reveals how the government’s version of an “investment approach” is not meeting standards used in other areas, for instance the insurance industry.

The government’s approach is flawed, and seems primarily designed to simply reduce the costs for government, without taking into consideration wider implications, like various risks, costs or in some cases also benefits for the individuals, that MSD and WINZ work with.

Here is a link to that interesting paper on this, well worth a read, as it proves again, we are presented rather misguided, insufficiently researched and poorly considered policy, that is also based on misrepresentation of available data and thus misinforms us. The government is keen to make things look better for itself and its agencies, but does not really deliver what is being claimed:

Click to access Investment%20Approach%20is%20not%20an%20investment%20approach%20-%20Rosenberg_0.pdf

 

And other needed, overdue, reliable evaluation information is still being withheld by the government, as this question from 17 Sept. 2015 in the House of Representatives, put by Carmel Sepuloni (Labour’s spokesperson on Social Development) to the Associate Minister for Social Development shows:
http://www.inthehouse.co.nz/video/39670

Others asked questions before, how the evaluation of reforms and outcomes was going:
http://publicaddress.net/speaker/how-is-government-evaluating-its-welfare/

The public are not given the transparency and accountability they deserve!

 
 


ADDENDUM 3: “BACK-TO-WORK PROGRAMME LABELLED A FAIL”, NZ HERALD REPORT FROM 17 SEPTEMBER 2015 (added 05 Nov. 2015):

In the meantime we have been getting the first solid media reports revealing information that the MHES (Mental Health Employment Service) and SPES (Sole Parent Employment Service) – that MSD has contracted out with various private service providers – are failing.

The ‘New Zealand Herald reported on it under the following title:
Back-to-work programme labelled a fail, and the full article can be found via this link:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11514141

Extracts:
“A multimillion-dollar scheme to get beneficiaries with mental health conditions and sole parents back to work appears to have flopped. Work and Income has already spent more than $7.3 million on the new services, part of wider reforms. Up to 2000 people at a time are on the trial programmes, which offer extra services such as employment placement and in-work support. The aim is to help beneficiaries return to and stay in work.”

“A full midpoint evaluation of the programmes, which began in September 2013 and will run until next June, has been delayed until later this year. But an April 7 briefing to Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, released to Labour under the Official Information Act, shows that those on the programme did not stay in work for longer, or earn more.”

“”At the 12-month evaluation point in September 2014, the impact monitoring showed no detectable impact on off-benefit outcomes or earnings outcomes for the Mental Health Employment Service contracted trial compared to internal Work and Income services,” the report said. A 3 per cent lift in off-benefit outcomes for sole parents was noted, compared with a control group, but this was not statistically significant.”

“Beneficiaries advocate Kay Brereton said the underwhelming results showed people pushed off benefits were motivated to find work. “Unfortunately the ministry comes from a different direction – the only reason they haven’t got a job is that they are not trying hard enough.” “

Own Comments:

If this new approach, based on the ideas that work is “therapeutic” and that it has “health benefits”, is after all not bringing the supposed great “benefits”, then what must we think of it? Either there is something wrong with the way the programs are run, or the whole approach must be put into question! We are not surprised, as the evidence that is so often referred to is simply questionable – if not wrong. As written above, much evidence is not really what it is claimed to be. Besides of all that, it is no wonder then, that we get no reliable data, or no figures at all, on the actual numbers of referred persons to those services, who managed to get work and stay in work for any significant time. MSD have been extremely reluctant and very uncooperative in providing sought information upon O.I.A. requests.

The agenda seems to be losing its credit and seems to slowly falling apart.

 
 

ADDENDUM 4: THE NEW ZEALAND MEDICAL JOURNAL’S ‘VIEWPOINT’ BY GORDON PURDIE ON INCORRECT INFO USED BY DR BRATT AND THE AFOEM; VOL. 128 NO 1425, 20 NOV. 2015 (added 19 May 2016):

 

So here is some interesting stuff to read from the New Zealand Medical Association website, showing us how Gordon Purdie, Sen. Research Fellow at the Dean’s Department at the University of Otago, Wellington, has also found that the “research findings” Dr Bratt uses, are not reliable and incorrect.

Look up the ‘Viewpoint’ published in the New Zealand Medical Journal from 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

“Is the statement that if a person is off work for 70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35% justified?”

Here is just a brief extract:
“The incorrect statements about the chance of ever getting back to work are being presented to general practitioners (GPs) continuing medical education conferences in the context certifying people as unfit for work, together with statements like the ‘benefit’ is “an addictive debilitating drug with significant adverse effects to both the patient and their family (whānau)”.13 They are being presented to GPs in the context of assisting patients to safely stay at work or return to work early.4 These appear to be encouraging GPs to assess injured and unwell patients as having capacity for work and not issuing medical certificates for work incapacity. This could result in the cessation of welfare benefits or injury compensation. When these patients lack the capacity to work, they could experience increased financial hardship. For example, people might move from injury compensation to an unemployment benefit, and those without benefit entitlements to no income.”

Read the whole lot, it proves that we are served endless misrepresented information with the “science” they use to justify assessing many seriously sick and disabled as “fit for work”, even when they have no realistic chance of getting a job. Especially mentally ill will be put at great risk!

Dr Bratt, Principal Health Advisor at MSD and acting for WINZ, and his “expert” sources have been exposed, yet again.

Here is a link to a downloadable PDF:

Click to access Purdie-1874FINAL1425.pdf

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WORK + INCOME IS DENYING EXTRA ADVANCES FOR EMERGENCY DENTAL TREATMENT


WORK AND INCOME NZ (short WINZ) HAVE ACCORDING TO MEDIA REPORTS SINCE LAST YEAR BEEN CUTTING BACK ON EMERGENCY DENTAL TREATMENT ADVANCES FOR THOSE ON BENEFITS OR LOW INCOMES

 

This is hard to believe, but it is according to reports just out true. Radio NZ National has reported, that beneficiaries needing emergency dental treatment can apparently no longer access advances for costly emergency dental treatment. According to newly obtained official information from MSD (the Ministry of Social Development) this new approach has been taken since last year. Only about $ 300 per year are available to beneficiaries to cover dental treatment costs. Now those needing more expensive work done, like root canal treatments, crowns or bridges can no longer get advance loans from WINZ to cover for this.

They now either have to negotiate installment payments with their dentists or try and borrow money elsewhere. Some will not be able to get credit and may decide to rather have their teeth pulled out. So poverty will become more visible again, with people walking around with gaps in their dentures, I presume. This must be one of the results of their new “investment approach” (saving costs where-ever they can).

 

Radio New Zealand National reports:

‘Shrinking WINZ dental loans’

05 May 2015, Demelza Leslie

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/272803/shrinking-winz-dental-loans

 

EXTRACT:

In the 2010/11 financial year, Work and Income loaned $9,398,451 to beneficiaries for emergency dental work. Over the past year that figure was slashed to $45,100, official documents showed.

Ms Brereton does not think there has been any specific changes to policy, except Government pressure on Work and Income to shrink beneficiary debt.

She said when WINZ got mean, beneficiaries were forced to go loan sharks and financial companies for money.

Dental Association chief executive David Crum said some beneficiaries required quite extensive work. He said they could only ignore a toothache for so long.

“Particularly when you get an infection or pain, that changes the picture dramatically,” he said.

Dr Crum guessed beneficiaries were organising time payments with their dentist or were getting the funding from somewhere else.

 

Here is also an audio from Morning Report on RNZ, covering the same:
http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/201753044/advocate-warns-beneficiaries-could-be-going-to-loan-sharks

Read and listen to the full original reports via the links to the RNZ National website, offered above!

 

Own Comment:

What next, I dare to ask, and what does this tell us about the supposed “supports” they claim to give to sick, injured and disabled who they want to get into any kind of “suitable” work? There is little evidence of extra “support” being offered, besides of more investment in “more intensive case-management”, as this post already revealed:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/mental-health-and-sole-parent-employment-services-msd-withholds-o-i-a-information-that-may-prove-their-trials-a-failure/

 

What great “job prospects” will a WINZ client have, with gaps in his or her teeth? Let us also not forget the tax cuts that were favouring the higher earners and wealthy a few years ago, and how the weak and poor are asked to foot any budget shortfall to achieve a “more balanced budget”.

 

Author: Marc

 

(a similar post has been posted on ‘ACC Forum’)

 
 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: OIA CHAOS AT THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT – WRONG DATA RELEASED TO MEDIA (06 MAY 2015)

 

MSD ARE EXPERIENCING A BIT OF “CHAOS” WITH THEIR DELIVERY OF OFFICIAL INFORMATION ACT RESPONSES:

 

Today I read on the blog of the Green Party, that there appears to have been some misleading information that was sent to media (Radio NZ National) in form of an Official Information Act response by MSD:

 

‘OIA chaos in the Ministry of Social Development’

https://blog.greens.org.nz/2015/05/06/oia-chaos-in-the-ministry-of-social-development/

 

So I must concede, that the information I and others relied on, was not correct. There has been a letter provided by MSD, stating clearly a mistake of sorts was made, and providing also the ACTUAL figures for emergency dental treatment, including dental treatment paid for by way of special advance payments, and otherwise by Special Needs Grants, the latter apparently for less urgent treatments.

 

The letter has been made available via this link:

Click to access correctedMSDdentalOIA.pdf

 

Yes, a person I know also happened to get an advance nearly a year ago, for over a thousand dollars, for more expensive emergency dental treatment, and then had no problems, that was mid year. Today a person I also know went in for an advance payment, and that was close to 400 dollars worth, and that was also processed.

Hence apologies for rushing to write the post above, and for having relied on one media report on Radio NZ, which was relying on the incorrect information. I try to do all to avoid such mistakes, but when other, usually reliable media, misreport some information that was not complete or was misleading from the start, there is only so much we can do.

So MSD and WINZ do actually continue to offer these advances, but it appears also, that they seem to be more careful in granting advances and Special Needs Grants.

We conclude from all this, MSD do not have their OIA information service under control, and that only adds to concerns re other parts of their responsibilities, that certainly deserve attention and criticism.

You can rest assured though, that other information provided on this blog has been well researched and is generally very reliable!

 

Here is the PDF with a copy of the new, updated O.I.A. response from MSD (dated 06 May 2015):
MSD, letter correcting O.I.A. info release, correctedMSDdentalOIA, 06.05.15

 

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NZ FINANCE MINISTER BILL ENGLISH INSULTS BENEFICIARIES WITH MANSEL AYLWARD’S “WORK WILL SET YOU FREE” APPROACH


NEW ZEALAND FINANCE AND DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER BILL ENGLISH INSULTS BENEFICIARIES WITH MANSEL AYLWARD’S “WORK WILL SET YOU FREE” APPROACH! HE MAKES UNSCIENTIFIC CLAIMS THAT HAVE BEEN SPREAD BY WORK AND INCOME’S INFAMOUS ‘PRINCIPAL HEALTH ADVISOR’ DR DAVID BRATT, WHO IS KNOWN FOR LIKENING ‘BENEFIT DEPENDENCE’ TO “DRUG DEPENDENCE”:

 

Read this very interesting, re-edited and further updated post that ‘Marc’ initially published via ‘ACC Forum’ on 19 September 2014:

 

It was hard to believe what I read in the New Zealand Herald on 18 September 2014, just two days before the general election. According to Deputy Prime Minister Bill English long term benefit dependence is similar to “crack cocaine addiction”:

 

“Bill English’s cocaine reference slammed”, NZ Herald, video, 18.09.14:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/election-2014/news/video.cfm?c_id=1503581&gal_cid=1503581&gallery_id=145532

 

“Bill English’s cocaine reference slammed”, Bay of Plenty Times, article, 18.09.14:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11326924

 

Quote:

“Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has compared some long-term beneficiaries to crack addicts, sparking criticism.

 

 Mr English made the comment while speaking to about 100 voters at a meeting at Club Mount Maunganui yesterday in his final push to Tauranga voters ahead of Saturday’s election.

 

 “Getting stuck on a benefit (long-term) is like crack cocaine, it’s really hard once you’ve started to come off it …”

 He delved into the economy and outlined his party’s economic plans.

 

 He was joined by Tauranga MP Simon Bridges and Bay of Plenty National candidate Todd Muller.

 

 National’s economic plan was about growing the economy steadily, creating 150,000 more jobs by 2018, delivering higher incomes, helping more businesses to succeed and addressing long-term welfare dependency, which was costing the country billions, he said.

 

 Once people entered the benefit system, particularly those aged under 20, they often stayed on it for years, and there were concerning numbers who had been on a benefit for up to 20 years, Mr English said.

 

“Getting stuck on a benefit (long-term) is like crack cocaine, it’s really hard once you’ve started to come off it…

 

 “We know hooking adults back into the education system and getting them off benefits into work in seven years rather than 20 saves the country millions,” he said.

 

 Mr English said one of the main reasons the country’s economy was consuming billions of dollars was in the number of people on benefit long term, including many receiving sickness benefit.

 

 Welfare statistics showed there were 300,000 people on benefit, costing $76 billion over a lifetime, and about $50 billion worth was driven by those who started on a benefit under the age of 20.

 

 Mr English said National was getting 1600 people off welfare and back into work each week, which was “pretty good start” and the Ministry of Social Development’s case-management approach with long-term clients was paying dividends.

 

 Research also showed many beneficiaries had solvable problems such as depression that once addressed would enable them to return to paid work.

 

 Mr English said voters had a stark choice – vote for National and “steady as she goes” and sensible fiscal spending or vote for the “others” and watch the ship start to list and sink.

 

 The country was in good shape and it was not time to make dramatic changes, he said.

 

 Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson said Mr English’s reference to crack cocaine showed a lack of understanding.

 

 “You have to be there to understand it’s not an addiction. Most people don’t have a choice.”

 

 

The story was also covered by some other media:

 

“Bill English describes beneficiaries as drug addicts”, Yahoo News NZ:

https://nz.news.yahoo.com/election/a/-/25045081/bill-english-describes-beneficiaries-as-drug-addicts/

 

“Bill English describes beneficiaries as drug addicts”, ZB news, 18 Sept. 2014:

http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbpol/1969869620-bill-english-describes-beneficiaries-as-drug-addicts

 

“Beneficiary bashing unacceptable – BAFNZ”, Voxy, 18.09.14:

http://www.voxy.co.nz/national/beneficiary-bashing-unacceptable-bafnz/5/202598

 

 

Own Comments:

The talk about welfare dependency being just like “drug dependence” is nothing new to the well informed, who know all about Dr David Bratt, MSD’s Principal Health Advisor, who has repeatedly made the bizarre comparison in his many “presentations” to health professionals (especially GPs) and in comments to media. Here is one of his “presentations”:

 

“Ready, Steady, Crook”

http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

(see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35)

 

 

Bratt is one of the most faithful followers of the ideologically influenced “findings” and “research” by Professor Mansel Aylward, who has been condemned by many disabled and advocacy groups in the UK. His long term involvement with the UNUM health and disability insurance company has also been controversial:

 

http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/09/professor-mansel-aylward-my-what-a-very-tangled/

http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/15/british-government-uses-might-of-u-s-insurance-giant-unum-to-destroy-u-k-safety-net-report-by-mo-stewart-wraf-rtd-14912/

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/mar/17/epluribusunum

 

Aylward had input into the formation of the recent welfare reforms in New Zealand, and met Paula Bennett to advise her. He also met with a “health and disability panel” that took part in formulating and drafting up the welfare reforms that are now written in law. Aylward wrote reports that suggested many people suffering mental health conditions – and from musculo-skeletal conditions – were rather suffering from “illness belief” than true sickness. He claims that most sick, injured and disabled are able to work in jobs on the open market, to compete with fit and healthy for jobs, and should be “supported” into work, as work is “therapeutic” and has “health benefits”. His claims have been disputed by many, but as he seems to deliver the “science” and “research” findings that governments and insurers wanting to cut costs simply love, he is now held up as a supposed “expert” with credibility.

 

The following posts shine light on what is really behind the whole policy drives:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-health-and-disability-panel-and-its-hand-picked-members/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-controversial-bio-psycho-social-model/

 

 

Even the AFOEM of the RACP has taken up Aylward’s advice and recommendations, which should not surprise, as the President of the AFOEM is Dr David Beaumont, a former ATOS staff member, and also controversial assessor or advisor used by ACC:

 

http://www.racp.org.nz/page/afoem-health-benefits-of-workhttp://www.racp.org….mansel-aylward/

http://www.racp.org.nz/page/racp-faculties/australasian-faculty-of-occupational-and-environmental-medicine/realising-the-health-benefits-of-work/may-2010-video-presentation-professor-sir-mansel-aylward/

 

 

After the fatal shooting of two WINZ staff members in Ashburton we read articles like the following in the NZ Herald – same as in other media:

 

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11318067

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11319849

 

That shocking story is yet to unfold further, and be prepared that at least some of the truth about how WINZ now work with “clients” may finally come out once the matter is heard before the court at some time in the not so distant future.

 

Bill English should know better, but him resorting to the bizarre kinds of claims that other “experts” have used before, this shows us that things are going to get a hell of a lot worse, for those dependent on benefits for health and disability reasons. Fasten your seat belts, as the journey will not be a pleasant one. Since  National has won the election, we will have another chilling 3 year term of them running the welfare system in New Zealand further into the ground.

 

This is a link to the original post that ‘Marc’ made available on ‘ACC Forum’:

 

http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/16685-bill-english-takes-lessons-from-work-will-set-you-free-propagandists/

 

 

UPDATE:

 

In the morning of 19 September 2014 there was an interesting brief report by Radio New Zealand’s Political Editor Brent Edwards on ‘Nine to Noon’. He revealed how statistical figures used in the election campaign were often far from the truth. That applies to the governing National Party, same as to some other parties. But it was very interesting to hear what the actual figures were, of those leaving benefit-receipt on balance per week (while considering the inflow of new benefit claimants as well, besides of those supposedly leaving benefit receipt). And the movements off benefits are only possible due to employment being a bit more available in various regions. The figures thrown around also tell us little about how long people stay in jobs, and what they actually earn.

 

The actual NET figure for people leaving the benefit is much, much smaller than what we got told in election brochures and in bold claims from Paula Bennett, various other National Party candidates and the Prime Minister.

 

I strongly recommend people listen to the following audio recording – here is the link to the track on Radio New Zealand’s website:

 

“Brent Edwards discussed Fact or Fiction throughout the campaign”, Radio New Zealand, 19 Sept. 2014:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/20150259/brent-edwards-discussed-fact-or-fiction-throughout-the-campaign

 

 

Further UPDATE from 19 Oct. 2014:

 

Another media article shines more light on what is behind the supposedly much “improved” numbers for people being dependent on welfare benefits:

 

“Govt ‘playing the figures’ on welfare”, Thomas Heaton, Manawatu Standard / ‘stuff.co’, 18 Oct. 2014:

 

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/10633360/Govt-playing-the-figures-on-welfare

 

Extract:

 

“There are 10,000 fewer people around the country using the welfare system compared to this time last year, according to the Ministry of Social Development. The central region, which includes Manawatu, contributed 150 people to that statistic although local aid agencies thought the number was not entirely accurate.”

 

“However, the Salvation Army’s Palmerston North Corps says it has been approached by an increasing number of people whose benefits have been “cut or reduced”.

 

The increased number was “due to the new social reforms and requirements”.  People were not being allocated the proper aid and were being dealt with inappropriately, it said.

 

Those with medical issues were receiving “jobseekers assistance” when they should have been receiving the “supported living payment”.  There were cases where beneficiaries were unable to fulfil the obligations to receive jobseekers assistance.

 

The “supported living payment” is given to those with illnesses, the blind, or those caring for people fulltime, while the “jobseekers assistance” requires beneficiaries to attend seminars and interviews. If three commitments are missed within 12 months, the beneficiary is cut from the system. Some of those people are unable to fulfil those commitments due to illness or health problems.

 

Palmerston North social worker Kevin Richards said he was not seeing things as “getting better”.  Clients were finding it “increasingly difficult” to qualify for welfare, because of changes in criteria, he said. As his clients were rejected, he was left looking after people who had no way of supporting themselves.”

 

Own Comments:

 

Check the above link to read the whole article! This is more proof of WINZ staff being instructed by their team leaders and managers, and ultimately by the top levels at the Ministry of Social Development, to meet set targets and remove people from benefits. Even an increasing number of sick, injured and disabled are told to prepare for work, and to look for work on the open job market. Doctors (GPs) are increasingly told by WINZ Regional Health and Disability Advisors to not issue work ability sickness certificates that declare their clients as not fit to do any work. A new approach from the UK, that one devised by Mansel Aylward and like-minded colleagues, and pushed by these hand-picked “experts”, is used, and hence MSD and WINZ tell medical professionals to look at what their patients can (hypothetically) do, rather than what they may not be able to do. If you can do some work in sitting, you can be considered “fit” to work, even if you may never have done office work, or other kinds of work that people tend to do while they may sit. It is viewed as of little or no relevance, whether you may actually lack the qualifications and skills to do such a hypothetical job, as doctors are only meant to look at health issues based on “medical” aspects. This leads to increasing numbers of sick and impaired being denied Living Support Payment benefit entitlements, and rather being put onto the lower paid Jobseeker Support benefit.

 

Some may for time being get a “deferred” work test obligation, but eventually case managers will communicate expectations that clients prepare for some form of work, and urge them to attend seminars, courses or get referred to special, outsourced service providers, that will put them into whatever kind of supposedly “suitable” job there is (for nice fees paid by MSD).

 

And if the client’s own doctor may not complete a certificate as WINZ may wish it to look like, then WINZ case managers are encouraged to send their clients to one of their “designated doctors” to be re-examined and re-assessed. The MSD paid “designated doctors” tend to deliver what WINZ prefers, at least some of them, who appear to be used much more often, than other ones they have on their books.

 

Another post reveals what that entails and means:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/designated-doctors-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc-the-truth-about-them/

 

 

Further information of interest and relevance to this topic:

 

Also check these posts for “work ability assessments” and providers they now use:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-a/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-b/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-c/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-d/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-e/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-f/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-parts-g-and-h/

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-a-revealing-fact-study-part-i/

 

And in the following post found under this link, there is some advice of how to prepare, if anyone is asked to see a designated doctor or a supposedly “independent” “work-ability assessor”:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/advice-to-winz-beneficiaries-facing-medical-examinations-and-work-ability-assessments/

 

And here is a link to newer scientific evidence which shows that at least some forms of paid employment on the competitive, often insecure, casual and term contract based job market is not really as “healthy” as “experts” like Professor Mansel Aylward and some of his colleagues claim:

https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/work-has-fewer-health-benefits-than-mansel-aylward-and-other-experts-claim-it-can-cause-serious-harm/

 

 

Closing note:

 

All this is information you will NOT find in any “mainstream media” in New Zealand, who have apparently not bothered to investigate, research and analyse any of this. It seems to be easier and less “disturbing” to simply report on what Ministers and other government politicians tell people, no matter whether it is based on truth or not.

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