Unprecedented demand for ACC from sex abuse victims

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is struggling with the almost 400 percent increase in unsuccessful attempts by sex abuse victims to get mental health support over the past 15 months.

Its national waitlist figures indicate failed attempts by sex abuse survivors to get mental health help increased by 387 percent and reaching 4131 in the most recent quarter from 847.

ACC says the waits are a result of a lack of capacity among its sensitive claims mental health service suppliers.

One applicant says she contacted every Wellington mental health supplier and dozens of therapists on ACC’s accredited list this year and got rejection after rejection.

“It makes you want to cry … knowing that even if you want help there’s no one out there that can because their load’s already too big.”

Her choices were an appointment in about a year, or sooner with a trainee psychologist sitting in on the sessions. Then, when she managed to get an appointment, it was cancelled because of COVID lockdowns.

Wellington Rape Crisis general manager Kyla Rayner says demand is the highest Rape Crisis has ever seen.

Many sensitive claim mental health support suppliers simply do not have room on their books to take more people on.

Waitlist times are far longer in some places. In the three months to May they averaged up to 25 weeks in Lower Hutt, 22 in Nelson and 20 in Masterton.

The size of waitlists have also grown. The number of spots claimed by people has more than doubled, up 124 percent in the past 15 months – from 656 to 1473.

Green Party ACC spokesperson Jan Logie says delays compound the harm to survivors.

“It’s an absolute failure of our system.”

ACC says the figures are a snapshot provided by services as part of a quarterly survey. They don’t include people who get immediate treatment, so avoid waitlists.

Only a third of suppliers offer a waitlist.

ACC also says annual sensitive claims have more than doubled in five years to nearly 13,000, jumping 20 percent each year since 2014.

It has more than doubled the number of sensitive claims therapists in that time to 1990, with nearly 500 coming onboard in the past three years. It has also made it easier and faster for suppliers to bring on new therapists.

ACC says it has not been able to close the gap between supply and demand.

“Media coverage, the #metoo movement, the Royal Commission of Inquiry in Abuse in Care investigation, societal trends, and awareness-raising prevention campaigns are changing attitudes towards sexual violence, which we believe is resulting in more survivors of sexual violence feeling they can seek help.”

Paul Skirrow from the College of Clinical Psychologists says the mental toll on clinicians from working with sexual assault survivors meant many only worked part time.

“There’s actually ACC guidance that says that you shouldn’t spend more than 50 percent of your time doing this kind of work. So we’re talking about a number there but that might be a very small number of appointments available that it might translate to.”


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