War of Words over proposed changes to the Transport Accident Act.


War of Words over proposed changes to the Transport Accident Act.

The debate around the government’s plans to amend the Transport Accident Act is heating up with leading psychiatrists responsible for drafting the current guidelines for evaluating mental harm slamming the proposal for being too harsh and for the total lack of consultation by the government. The government is persisting in its charade that the proposed changes are not designed to reduce road accident victims’ entitlements.

Here’s the transcript of an article in today’s Age :

Psychiatrists lash out at accident compo plans

Many people who should be eligible for mental-injury compensation as a result of transport accidents would be excluded under proposed state government changes, say two psychiatrists who created the tool used to assess claimants.

Dr Nigel Strauss and Dr Michael Epstein, who co-wrote The Guide to the Evaluation of Psychiatric Impairment for Clinicians with Dr George Mendelson, said none of them were consulted on a government bill that, if passed, would leave fewer people eligible for compensation from the Transport Accident Commission for mental injuries incurred as a result of accidents.

This follows Fairfax Media’s report on Tuesday that emergency services workers such as paramedics and firefighters would be among those excluded, with the changes also removing compensation for people who develop a mental illness despite not being in an accident or witnessing it.

Together with Dr Nathan Serry, the psychiatrists wrote to the state government last week on behalf of Victorian psychiatrists at the Australian Medico-Legal Group to oppose the changes.

They wrote that the current test, which involved independent medical examiners assessing a person’s social interactions, job and general health, had worked well for years.

“We as psychiatrists in clinical practice are particularly concerned about the impact of such legislation on the more marginalised members of society … the selective wording of the proposed legislation discriminates unfairly against those who have a severe long-term mental disorder.”

Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, who introduced the bill this month, said: “The government simply wants to ensure there is a clear, modern definition of what constitutes a serious mental injury for the purposes of access to common law damages.”

Asked why the psychiatrists behind the clinicians’ guide were not consulted, Mr Rich-Phillips said the TAC was “already making arrangements to meet with stakeholders including the Australian Medico Legal Group. The TAC has also consulted with the [Australian Medical Association], which represents the medical profession”.

The psychiatrists agreed the law should define serious mental injury but said many people would be excluded from compensation under the proposed definition.

In order to gain compensation, the changes require people to have a “severely impaired function” with symptoms that cause impairment in their “relationships and social and vocational functioning” for at least three years.

Dr Strauss said the new criteria, developed with the state’s Chief Psychiatrist and the Health Department, were “far too harsh” and most seriously ill psychiatric patients would miss out on compensation under them.

He said the government “should have talked to the people who actually do the work” in the field.

“[The new definition] … makes it almost impossible. There has to be much more room to move as there has been traditionally,” Dr Strauss said. “Very few people are going to get [compensation] and many people who deserve to won’t.”

Dr Epstein said one-third of otherwise eligible people would be excluded from compensation under the proposed definition, which he described as a product of “sloppy drafting”.

“Mental illness is often episodic; it comes and goes, particularly with a transport accident anniversary, when people become a lot worse,” he said.

Many people in country Victoria would be left out because they could not access mental health services. Retirees would also be excluded because they would not be able to prove that their illness had left them unable to work.

Ambulance Employees Australia, the United Firefighters Union and the Police Association held a rally on Tuesday to oppose the proposed changes to the Transport Accident Act.

Speaking to about 80 union members, Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said Labor would vote against the bill this week and if it passed anyway, would “undo that damage” if Labor was elected in the next state election.

Mr Rich-Phillips said in a letter to Ambulance Employees Australia that there were no proposals to treat emergency services workers any differently to how they are treated now and they would continue to be able to access compensation through Workcover.

Here’s the link to the article :


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