14 Mar 2017

Woman fights for ACC cover for surgery complication

8:28 pm on 14 March 2017

A woman denied ACC coverage for a stroke suffered after surgery for an aneurysm has told a court she can no longer do her previous job and sometimes has to walk with a stick.

Surgery

A file photo of surgeons at work: Brenda Ng suffered a stroke after surgery for an aneurysm four years ago. Photo: Pixabay

Brenda Ng suffered the stroke in January 2013. She has taken the accident insurance agency to the Wellington District Court over its decision not to provide compensation.

Her lawyer told the court the stroke left Ms Ng with weakness on her right side and has prevented her from carrying on her previous job as a sports coordinator.

Lawyer Brittany Peck said Ms Ng also had to walk with a stick sometimes and had suffered some personality changes as a result of the stroke.

The key question for the court to consider was whether or not the stroke was an "ordinary consequence" of undergoing surgery to repair the aneurysm, Ms Peck said.

A report from specialist neurosurgeon Andrew Parker showed the general complication rate expected in such surgery was only 10-15 percent, she said.

That suggested a stroke was not an expected outcome of aneurysm surgery unlike, for example, hair loss as a result of chemotherapy.

"Where we run into problems with ACC is that just knowing something is a complication that can occur doesn't render it 'ordinary'," Ms Peck said.

"It's only if you're going under some pioneering treatment there might be something like that."

Ms Peck said the only submission ACC made to answer the dispute was that granting cover to her client might open the floodgates for similar claimants to seek cover.

ACC lawyer Andrew Butler said the case raised a very important question about the boundary between what was covered by ACC and what was covered by the health system.

The risks of the aneurysm procedure were revealed to patients, including the risk of a stroke, he said.

There was no suggestion Ms Ng's neurosurgery was to anything other than the highest clinical standard.

It was not ACC's job to be the insurer of outcomes of medical intervention if the results of those procedures was not what people would have liked them to be, Mr Butler said.

"We would have preferred that she didn't suffer a stroke and [everyone] desired that the outcome would have been better for her.

"But she presented with that condition with known risks and was treated to the highest standard that could be offered and it's in that context that the phrase 'ordinary consequence' has to be understood."

He said if Ms Ng's lawyer was correct, everybody who was treated with a scalpel or other medical instrument would be eligible for ACC cover if their medical procedure was not successful.

Judge Nicola Mathers reserved her decision.

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