Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
A dying dad whose battles with ACC and Work and Income led to him posting suicide plans on Facebook has won compensation and an apology - but he hopes nobody else ever has to face such a battle again.
Mark Bates, 43, has a terminal brain tumour. The Tauranga dad has seizures, headaches, numbness, weakness, vision loss and nausea. He can feel his body shutting down.
Bates and his wife Kirsty have been struggling to support themselves and their two children. Recent issues after Work and Income cut off Kirsty's benefit because she was studying have left their finances on the brink.
In 2018, a counsellor told Bates he was entitled to make a claim from ACC for a botched biopsy - one that could make a big difference to his family after he was gone.
The Bates have spent the past year trying to get ACC to accept their claim for compensation. But two weeks ago, the battle became too much. Bates said he decided to go off his medication and wait to die. He blamed ongoing issues with Work and Income and ACC.
In a lengthy Facebook post on Friday May 24, Bates told his friends he was planning "self-euthanasia".
"I am left with little choice but to end it too early," he wrote. "Unfortunately between Winz, Studylink and ACC they have made it impossible for us to carry on and easier for me to die."
Kirsty supported his decision as they had suffered enough, he wrote.
"I'm tired of watching [Kirsty] break down while battling government departments. With me gone we both know it will be so much easier and would not have this hassle. She needs to carry on not get held back because she wants a life after my death."
What he didn't anticipate was the response to his post. It went viral over the weekend, as strangers shared their battles with ACC and Work and Income.
The following Monday ACC called. He was eligible for full compensation, they said. The same day, Work and Income called to apologise, saying they were reinstating all the couple's benefits until after his death.
Bates was delighted. The news gave him a reason to keep going. He kept taking his medication, and now hopes to see his son's 16th birthday in a few weeks. And he wants to use the little time he has left to fight for others who are stuck in the system.
A tumour and a botched biopsy
Bates' medical notes show that after his 2008 diagnosis, his condition was well controlled. He continued to work as a painter and seizures were extremely rare.
But a brain biopsy in January 2014 caused a brain bleed that led to frequent seizures, paralysis and leg weakness. Forced to stop work, Bates developed anxiety and depression.
The Bates say nobody told them at the time they could claim ACC compensation over the accident. It wasn't until last year when they really needed the money that Bates began a claim.
In January this year ACC agreed he was due a payout, medical notes show. But he was only offered compensation for the seven months after the biopsy - any symptoms from after July 31, 2014 were blamed on his tumour.
Bates geared up for a fight. He began radiation treatment to extend his life to give ACC time to review its decision.
"If not for the radiation I would have been at peace late January," Bates told the Herald, saying the treatment left him "emotionally and physically drained".
ACC has spent months reviewing the claim. Medical professionals agreed with Bates: his ongoing symptoms were due to the biopsy, not the tumour. But the wheels were turning slowly at ACC, while Kirsty was being bounced between Studylink and Work and Income, trying to work out who should be paying her benefit.
A post about suicide - and a sudden turnaround
Bates posted about his plans to end his life on social media on Friday, May 24. Just three days later, ACC called to tell him he was entitled to the full five years' compensation. He says the organisation is also looking into his claim for mental injury caused by the biopsy.
Work and Income also called to apologise and has backpaid the benefits the Bates were owed.
Bates is certain the apparent change of heart is because of his Facebook post and the "overwhelming support" he received from the public.
"I didn't expect the response I got. It wasn't a threat it was a declaration to those few friends who know my health. I was maybe thinking just a few of my friends would read it. Saturday it gained momentum and by Sunday it was out of control," he said.
"It's left me humbled and grateful to have the support. Some of the stories shared have brought me to tears."
Although Bates' original, emotional post was critical of ACC and the Ministry of Social Development, he has since praised their response.
"[The Ministry of Social Development] and ACC have taken this very seriously and that is brilliant," Bates wrote in a Facebook update. "Not only that but [they] are working with us to help make changes."
But he told the Herald he believed frontline staff - particularly at Work and Income - needed more compassion. "[Work and Income] was the tipping point."
MSD regional commissioner Mike Bryant confirmed Work and Income had fixed the Bates' payments and reimbursed them for what they were owed.
"I was glad to be able to talk with Mark, to apologise for our mistake and the stress that it caused him and his family.
"Our service on this occasion wasn't good enough. In the first instance, we should have been faster to resolve the issues between our Work and Income and StudyLink systems," Bryant said.
"We're really concerned to hear that Mark hasn't felt compassionately treated – that's not the experience we want for our clients.
"We're reviewing what went wrong in Mark and Kirsty's case so we can find out what we need to improve."
ACC spokesman Nick Maslin declined to comment on the specifics of Bates' case, adding:
"Working with Mark to make sure all his injury-related needs are met is the most important thing right now."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.