A review of new rules for sexual abuse counselling has come too late to save a South Auckland mother who died four days after her claim for ACC-funded counselling was rejected.
Counselling Services Centre manager Emma Castle said the mother-of-three's claim for counselling for sexual abuse she had suffered as a child was rejected by ACC two months ago on the grounds that she had not suffered "a significant mental injury".
"The counsellor who submitted the claim made it very clear that sexual abuse was the reason why she had suicidal ideation and was self-harming," Ms Castle said. "It took them six months to make that decision. Four days after receiving notification that the ACC claim was denied, the client passed away."
The new rules provide ACC-subsidised counselling only for victims with a diagnosed mental condition caused by sexual abuse, and generally only for up to 16 weeks before a further review.
ACC Minister Nick Smith announced yesterday that the rules would be reviewed by a four-person panel chaired by former Mental Health Commissioner Dr Barbara Disley.
The other panel members are Auckland University psychiatrist Professor Graham Mellsop, Ruth Herbert of the lobby group Roundtable on Violence Against Women and psychologist Clive Banks of Porirua Maori mental health agency Rangataua Mauriora.
The co-chair of the national sexual violence network, Dr Kim McGregor, said the team did not include anyone who worked day to day with survivors of sexual violence.
The network had nominated Louise Nicholas, a high-profile survivor who is now an advocate with Rape Prevention Education, alongside psychologists Nicola Gavey and Fred Seymour, High Court Judge Ailsa Duffy and Maori lawyer Moana Jackson.
"None of our specialist experts that work day to day with survivors of sexual violence, and have done for decades, have been chosen to be part of this review," Dr McGregor said.
She said the rules had caused a virtual "collapse" of sexual abuse counselling, with cases approved by ACC down from 472 in the first two months of last year to just 32 in the same period this year.
The Association of Counsellors' representative on the ACC's sensitive claims advisory group, Elayne Johnston, said a 15-year-old girl who was raped over Christmas had still not received counselling because ACC required her to be assessed by a psychologist to see whether she had suffered a "mental injury".
Dr McGregor said almost all of the 600 to 700 private counsellors who were registered for ACC-funded work had stopped taking applicants for ACC subsidies since the new rules took effect because of an ethical objection to labelling assault victims as mentally ill.
Survivors were now going to rape crisis agencies instead, but the agencies could not cope because they had also lost funding.
The review panel has been asked to identify any changes required to "ensure that ACC is delivering timely decision-making and services to clients with a mental injury caused by sexual assault or sexual abuse".
It is due to report to Dr Smith by July 31.