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Using ACC to treat Christchurch terrorist attack victims' PTSD wouldn't be fair to others, Ardern argues

It wouldn't be fair to everyone else if victims and wiitnesses of the Christchurch terrorist attack who are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues got help through ACC, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern argued today. 

Critics, however, have contended that the current system - in which victims must seek help through the Ministry of Social Development - isn't working. 

ACC doesn't usually address PTSD, but a recent Cabinet paper - authored by ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and prepared by the department itself - said the agency could provide a one-off where there wouldn't be an expectation from others that the Government would then set a precedent. It said ACC was ready and could do it quickly.

However, talking to TVNZ1's Breakfast today, the Prime Minister disagreed with ACC officials' assumptions, saying in her view it would be precedent setting - a contention that was highlighted in a Treasury paper.

But it was also a question of fairness, she said.

"Why would we do it for one group but for someone who witnessed a homicide, witnessed maybe a family member being shot, wouldn't get the same ACC access?" Ms Ardern asked.

"We currently don't have that cover for the population in New Zealand, and so the pitch here was 'lets just do this as a one-off', and we can have a debate over whether or not that would be a fair approach because, of course, there are people who experience trauma who currently don't access the ACC system that same way.

"There was a view it may have set a precedent and that you could reasonably expect, therefore, if we believed it should be offered through ACC for March 15th why wouldn't we change ACC settings more generally? Now that's a debate we could have, but our view was, 'Let's not waste time on that debate now'."

While the Ministry for Social Development did fight back against the agency being the one to step up, Ms Ardern said officials there had dealt with one-offs before and "ultimately it needed to be dealt with to offer support and we chose the best way to do that".

She said while there were differing views on where the help should come from, there was an agreement that support for mental trauma should be offered.

"We chose to do it via MSD because they've done one-off arrangements before," Ms Ardern said. "For me it was about making sure the service was offered quickly and the service was there.

"We have case managers working with and available to every family affected [by the shootings] and so it also did provide a bit of efficiency in making sure that they then had that in their suite of support."

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Dr Ian De Terte talked about the Government’s decision for MSD to take the lead on mental trauma care of the survivors. Source: Breakfast

However, earlier on Breakfast, clinical psychologist Dr Ian De Terte argued that ACC could provide better quality of care than the Ministry of Social Development.

"ACC have some psychologists on their books and they could change the legislation," he said. "I know it might take a few years...They could then use those psychologists they've got on the books, then they could expand that as well.

"I'd like some support so that people at the lower end can get access to support without having to fork money from their own pocket."

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The Prime Minister responded to criticism over ACC’s lack of support on TVNZ1’s Breakfast. Source: Breakfast