Backdown on avalanche surgery

By Martin Johnston

George Milne was initially declined funding by ACC, a decision which was reversed on appeal, prompting the claimant to describe the process as 'arbitrary'. Photo / Sarah Ivey
George Milne was initially declined funding by ACC, a decision which was reversed on appeal, prompting the claimant to describe the process as 'arbitrary'. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Accident compensation officials have backed down and agreed to finance surgery for a young man injured in an avalanche - but only after a lawyer laid out the evidence.

George Milne, 22, an Otago University student of law and economics, was swept into a slide of deep snow while skiing at Canada's Whistler resort in February last year.

Mr Milne - the son of Hutt City Council member and former Act Party chief of staff Chris Milne - suffered a bone fracture and damage to cartilage in his right ankle.

He had been highly active - skiing, climbing and playing tennis and football. He had to stop these high-impact sports and had to cycle the 1.5km to university from his home because the pain was too great if he walked.

Four months after the accident and with little improvement in Mr Milne's symptoms, an orthopaedic surgeon recommended keyhole ankle surgery. ACC, however, declined to pay, on grounds the operation was needed for a degenerative, gradual-process condition.

"This was a quite astonishing finding," Mr Milne said, "given that I played competitive football and tennis right up to the accident and following the accident could barely walk to university.

"I had never had a serious injury and I had a blunt impact injury in an avalanche. You can't have a much more intense injury happen than an avalanche; it's obviously a one-off event that's caused it."

He had had one minor sprain in the past. A scan showed some inflammation in the ankle, but in the surgeon's opinion, this was not related to the pain, which was caused by the avalanche injury.

"The surgeon said the other thing going on in my ankle was something that might affect me when I'm 50, but not when I'm 21."

Mr Milne immediately sought a review, but, because that process could take months, his parents paid for the operation to be done privately last June. It cost around $8000.

Last month, ACC reversed its decision and agreed to pay.

"Before the [review] was heard, ACC had considered the evidence and concluded that my application for surgery was legitimate.

"It seems as though ACC is arbitrarily declining surgery requests without realising the effect on people's lives. Not everybody has a spare $20,000 lying around to fund an operation."

Mr Milne said his ankle was making good progress since the operation.

- NZ Herald

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