Student left in agony while ACC goes slow

By Martin Johnston

Morgan McPhail's parents eventually financed the surgery - but the case is being reviewed. Photo / Simon Baker
Morgan McPhail's parents eventually financed the surgery - but the case is being reviewed. Photo / Simon Baker

Morgan McPhail's parents have forked out $17,000 for her to have hip surgery after the Accident Compensation Corporation refused to pay.

ACC ruled that the severe pain suffered by Ms McPhail, a 20-year-old student at Canterbury University, was caused by an existing condition and not, as she and her surgeon asserted, by an accident.

Ms McPhail successfully challenged ACC at a review hearing. The reviewer quashed ACC's decision because of inconsistencies in the medical information. An independent surgeon's review was ordered, but this added to the months-long delay that eventually became intolerable.

ACC last night admitted it had moved too slowly on the case and promised to rectify that. But it stopped short of issuing an apology, stating instead that it "regrets the situation".

Ms McPhail's father is among more than 100 people to contact the Herald with complaints about ACC since the paper on Monday began its second series examining the refusal of funding for treatment on grounds such as degeneration.

Ms McPhail was in such pain she often had to use crutches and was unable to walk the 800m to university from her room. The harm to her emotional wellbeing, social relationships and ability to study and support herself financially was becoming too great.

"My parents had to foot the bill for surgery because it got to the point where I was in so much pain I had to be rushed to the after-hours clinic to have a morphine injection."

Now she is faced with trying to recover the money from ACC. Her problems began in June 2010 at a university hostel when she twisted badly as she rose from a chair to go for lunch.

A highly active sportswoman and first-year student aged 18, she underwent scans and conservative treatment for several months before orthopaedic surgeon John Rietveld recommended keyhole surgery to repair a tear in the labrum, the ring of soft, elastic tissue around the rim of the hip socket which holds the ball in place.

ACC, which until then had covered her injury, withheld surgery funding, saying she had a congenital condition called joint hyper-mobility syndrome.

Cover can be refused if an injury is wholly or substantially caused by a non-work disease or gradual process. The courts have defined "substantially" as more than 80 per cent.

"I have never officially been diagnosed with [the] syndrome," said Ms McPhail.

Quoting Mr Rietveld's report, she said he had some concerns about the flexibility of her joints, but had stated it was not the cause of her hip problems.

During surgery, he found the damage was much worse than thought. But the operation succeeded and she feels as if her hip has been fixed. "Three weeks post-op and I can walk [1.3km] to university without any pain."

She said ACC took around six months to refuse surgery funding. Delays also occurred in the new assessment ordered by the reviewer. The day before her operation, ACC told her the surgeon it had arranged in Auckland had pulled out of doing the job.

A corporation spokeswoman said: "ACC accepts that the elapsed time to make a decision on funding Ms McPhail's surgery has been too long. ACC will contact Ms McPhail directly to resolve the situation as a matter of priority. ACC regrets the situation."

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- NZ Herald

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